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USENIX 2011 Keynote: Network Security in the Medium Term, 2061-2561 AD

Good afternoon, and thank you for inviting me to speak at USENIX Security.

Unlike you, I am not a security professional. However, we probably share a common human trait, namely that none of us enjoy looking like a fool in front of a large audience. I therefore chose the title of my talk to minimize the risk of ridicule: if we should meet up in 2061, much less in the 26th century, you’re welcome to rib me about this talk. Because I’ll be happy to still be alive to rib.

So what follows should be seen as a farrago of speculation by a guy who earns his living telling entertaining lies for money.

The question I’m going to spin entertaining lies around is this: what is network security going to be about once we get past the current sigmoid curve of accelerating progress and into a steady state, when Moore’s first law is long since burned out, and networked computing appliances have been around for as long as steam engines?

I’d like to start by making a few basic assumptions about the future, some implicit and some explicit: if only to narrow the field.

For starters, it’s not impossible that we’ll render ourselves extinct through warfare, be wiped out by a gamma ray burster or other cosmological sick joke, or experience the economic equivalent of a kernel panic – an unrecoverable global error in our technosphere. Any of these could happen at some point in the next five and a half centuries: survival is not assured. However, I’m going to spend the next hour assuming that this doesn’t happen – otherwise there’s nothing much for me to talk about.

The idea of an AI singularity has become common currency in SF over the past two decades – that we will create human-equivalent general artificial intelligences, and they will proceed to bootstrap themselves to ever-higher levels of nerdish god-hood, and either keep us as pets or turn us into brightly coloured machine parts. I’m going to palm this card because it’s not immediately obvious that I can say anything useful about a civilization run by beings vastly more intelligent than us. I’d be like an australopithecine trying to visualize daytime cable TV. More to the point, the whole idea of artificial general intelligence strikes me as being as questionable as 19th century fantasies about steam-powered tin men. I do expect us to develop some eerily purposeful software agents over the next decades, tools that can accomplish human-like behavioural patterns better than most humans can, but all that’s going to happen is that those behaviours are going to be reclassified as basically unintelligent, like playing chess or Jeopardy.

In addition to all this Grinch-dom, I’m going to ignore a whole grab-bag of toys from science fiction’s toolbox. It may be fun in fiction, but if you start trying to visualize a coherent future that includes aliens, telepathy, faster than light travel, or time machines, your futurology is going to rapidly run off the road and go crashing around in the blank bits of the map that say HERE BE DRAGONS. This is non-constructive. You can’t look for ways to harden systems against threats that emerge from the existence of Leprechauns or Martians or invisible pink unicorns. So, no Hollywood movie scenarios need apply. 

Having said which, I cheerfully predict that at least one barkingly implausible innovation will come along between now and 2061 and turn everything we do upside down, just as the internet has pretty much invalidated any survey of the future of computer security that might have been carried out in 1961.

So what do I expect the world of 2061 to look like?

I am going to explicitly assume that we muddle through our current energy crises, re-tooling for a carbon-neutral economy based on a mixture of power sources. My crystal ball is currently predicting that base load electricity will come from a mix of advanced nuclear fission reactor designs and predictable renewables such as tidal and hydroelectric power. Meanwhile, intermittent renewables such as solar and wind power will be hooked to batteries for load smoothing, used to power up off-grid locations such as much of the (current) developing world, and possibly used on a large scale to produce storable fuels – hydrocarbons via Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, or hydrogen gas vial electrolysis.

We are, I think, going to have molecular nanotechnology and atomic scale integrated circuitry. This doesn’t mean magic nanite pixie-dust a la Star Trek; it means, at a minimum, what today we’d consider to be exotic structural materials. It also means engineered solutions that work a bit like biological systems, but much more efficiently and controllably, and under a much wider range of temperatures and pressures.

Mature nanotechnology is going to resemble organic life forms the way a Boeing 737 resembles thirty tons of seagull biomass. Both the Boeing and the flock of seagulls can fly, and both of them need a supply of organic fuel to oxidize in order to do so. But a flock of thirty tons of seagulls can’t carry a hundred passengers across the Atlantic, and Boeings don’t lay eggs. Designed nanosystems don’t need to be general-purpose replicators.

(Incidentally, I’ve been banging on about energy and mechanical efficiency because without energy we don’t have a technological civilization, and without a technological civilization questions of network security take second place to where to get a new flint arrowhead. Communications infrastructure depends on power; without it, we’re nowhere.)

Where I’m going to stick my neck out, is that I predict great things for medicine and biology over the next century. At the beginning of this talk I said that if we’re still alive in the 26th century you’re welcome to remind me of what I got wrong in this talk. I’m actually agnostic about the possibility that some of us may still be around then. There are a bunch of major medical obstacles to smash flat before that becomes possible, but we’re living through the early days of a revolution in genomics and biology – one made possible by massively parallel number-crunching and networking – and we’re beginning to work out just how complex our intracellular machinery is. Whole new areas of cellular biology have opening up in the past decade; RNA interference as a mechanism for modulating gene expression, how the topology of chromosomal folding affects genetics, a bunch of stuff that wasn’t even on the horizon in 2001. Getting a handle on your ignorance is the first step on the road to understanding. And the long-term benefits are likely to be huge.

We haven’t yet managed to raise the upper limit on human life expectancy (it’s currently around 120 years), but an increasing number of us are going to get close to it. And I think it’s quite likely that within another century the mechanisms underlying cellular senescence will be understood and treatable like other inborn errors of metabolism – in this case, ones that aren’t weeded out by natural selection because they do not impact the organism’s survival fitness until it has already long since passed reproductive age.

This, incidentally, leads me to another prediction: something outwardly resembling democracy everywhere.

Since 1911, democractic government by a republic has gone from being an eccentric minority practice to the default system of government world-wide – there are now more democracies than any other system, and even authoritarian tyrannies find it expedient to ape at least the outward symbolism of democratic forms, via rigged elections and life presidencies.

As the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, and then the Arab Spring demonstrated, popular support for democracy and freedom of speech is not exceptional: it exists and is expressed everywhere where it is not actively suppressed. Democracy is a lousy form of government in some respects – it is particularly bad at long-term planning, for no event that lies beyond the electoral event horizon can compel a politician to pay attention to it – but it has two gigantic benefits: it handles transfers of power peacefully, and provides a pressure relief valve for internal social dissent. If enough people get angry they can vote the bums out, and the bums will go – you don’t need to hold a civil war.

Unfortunately there are problems with democracy. In general, democratically elected politicians are forced to focus on short-term solutions to long-term problems because their performance is evaluated by elections held on a time scale of single-digit years: if a project doesn’t come to fruition within their time in office, it’s less than useful to them. Democratic systems are prone to capture by special interest groups that exploit the information asymmetry that’s endemic in complex societies, or disciplined radical parties that simply refuse to negotiate. The adversarial two-party model is a very bad tool for generating consensus on how to tackle difficult problems with no precedents – such as responses to climate instability or resource shortages or new communications media. Finally, representative democracy scales up badly – on the largest scales, those of national governments with populations in the tens to hundreds of millions, it tends towards voter apathy and alienation from the process of government – a pervasive sense that “voting doesn’t change anything” – because individual voters are distant from their representatives. Questionable e-voting technologies with poor anonymization or broken audit capabilities don’t help, of course.

Nor are governments as important as they used to be. National governments are constrained by external treaties – by some estimates, up to two-thirds of primary legislation in the UK has its origins in EU directives or WTO and WIPO trade treaties. Even the US government, the largest superpower on the block right now, is tightly constrained by the international trade system it promoted in the wake of the second world war.

Ultimately, a lot of the decision-making power of government in the 21st century is pushed down a level, to civil service committees and special interest groups: and so we have democratic forms of government, without the transparency and accountability. At least, until we invent something better – which I expect will become an urgent priority before the end of the century.

Now I want to talk a bit about economic development, because that’s one of the key determinants of the shape of the world we live in.

Having asserted – as I said, you can point and mock later – that we’re going to solve the energy crises, continue to burn non-fossil oil for transport, and get better materials and medical treatments, I’d like to look at the shape of our civilization.

Here in San Francisco it probably sometimes seems like the United States of America is the centre of the world. In a very real way it was, within living memory: in 1945, about 60% of global GDP came out of this nation, because the rest of the developed world had been pounded flat. Today, the United States, with around 5% of the planet’s population, is responsible for around 25% of planetary GDP. Note that this isn’t an absolute decline – the USA today is richer than it was in 1945. Rather, the rest of the world has been playing catch-up.

Something similar happened in the 19th century; in 1860 the United Kingdom, cradle of the industrial revolution, occupied about the same position relative to the rest of the world that the USA occupied in 1945. Today, the UK is down to 3.5% of planetary GDP, albeit with less than 1% of population. The good news is, we’re a lot richer than our ancestors. Relative decline is not tragic in a positive-sum world.

I’m not telling you anything new if I mention that the big story of the period from 1985 to 2015 is the development of China and India. Both nations – together they account for 2.5 billion people, more than four times the USA and EU combined – are sustaining economic growth at close to 10% per annum, compounded over long periods. Assuming that they survive the obstacles on the road to development, this process is going to end fairly predictably: both India and China will eventually converge with a developed world standard of living, while undergoing the demographic transition to stable or slowly declining populations that appears to be an inevitable correlate of development. (The population time bomb that mesmerized futurologists in the 1970s has, happily, fizzled.)

A less noticed phenomenon is that of Africa’s development. Africa is a huge continent, home to around a billion people in 53 nations. Africa entered the 1980s in dismal shape; even today, 34 of those 53 nations are ranked among the UN’s list of 48 least developed countries.

However, a quiet economic revolution is sweeping Africa. During the past decade, overall economic growth averaged a more-than-respectable 5% per annum; some areas are experiencing growth in the 6–7% range. Africa in 2011 is still very poor, but it is the poverty of the 1860s, not the 1660s. The short term prognosis for Africa as a continent is good – and I would hazard a guess that, barring unexpected setbacks such as an even larger war than the Congo conflict, Africa will follow China and India up the development curve before 2040.

In 2006, for the first time, more than half of the planet’s human population lived in cities. And by 2061 I expect more than half of the planet’s human population will live in conditions that correspond to the middle class citizens of developed nations.

We’re used to thinking of our world as being divided into economic zones – the developed nations, primarily urban and relatively wealthy, surmounting an immense pool of misery and mediaeval rural deprivation. But by 2061 we or our children are going to be living on an urban middle-class planet, with a globalized economic and financial infrastructure recognizably descended from today’s system, and governments that at least try to pay lip service to democratic norms.

(Checks wrist-watch.)

This is USENIX Security and I’m 10 minutes into my talk and I haven’t mentioned computers or networks. Some of you are probably getting bored or irritated by now, and it’s too early for an after-lunch nap, and I’m too low-tech to give you hypnosis by powerpoint. So let me get round to the stuff you came to hear about.

And let me say, before I do, that the picture I just painted – of the world circa 2061, which is to say of the starting point from which the world of 2561 will evolve – is bunk. It’s a normative projection, an if-this-goes-on kind of future, based on the assumption that lots of stuff won’t happen. No fourth world war, no alien invasion, no AI singularity, no rapture of the nerds, no singularity of the baptists. In actual fact, I’m pretty certain that something utterly unexpected will come along and up-end all these projections – something as weird as the world wide web would have looked in 1961. But even if no such black swans take wing, the world of 2061 is still going to be really odd, because the pervasive spread of networking technologies that we’ve witnessed over the past half century is only the beginning. And while the outer forms of that comfortable, middle-class urban developed-world planetary experience might look familiar to us, the internal architecture will be unbelievably different.

Let me start with an analogy.

Let’s imagine that, circa 1961 – just fifty years ago – a budding Nikolai Tesla or Bill Packard somewhere in big-city USA is tinkering in his garage and succeeds in building a time machine.

Being adventurous – but not too adventurous – he sets the controls for fifty years in the future, and arrives in downtown San Francisco.

What will he see, and how will he interpret it?

Well, a lot of the buildings are going to be familiar. Those that aren’t – much of the skyline – will at least look like the city of the future so familiar to us from magazines of the 1930s through the 1960s. Automobiles are automobiles, even if the ones he sees look kind of melted, and an obsession with aerodynamics might be taken for just another fashion fad. (The ten million lines of code and multiple microprocessors within the average 2011 car are, of course, invisible.) Fashion? Hats are out, clothing has mutated in strange directions, but that’s to be expected.

He may be thrown by the number of pedestrians walking around with wires in their ears, or holding these cigarette-pack-sized boxes with glowing screens. But earphones weren’t unheard of in 1961, and pocket television sets were one of the routine signs that you’re in the future now, as far back as Dick Tracy.

But there seem to be an awful lot of mad people walking around with bits of plastic clipped to their ears, talking to themselves … and why do all the advertising posters have a line of alphabet soup ending in ‘.com’ on them?

The outward shape of the future contains the present and the past, embedded within it like flies in amber. Our visitor from 1961 is familiar with cars and clothes and buildings: after all, they all existed in his own time. But he hasn’t heard of packet switched networks, and thinks of computers as mainframes trapped in air-conditioned rooms, and if he’s even aware of hypertext as a concept it’s in the form Vannevar Bush described in his essay “How We May Think” published in The Atlantic in 1945. Cellular radio networks lay in the future; the 1961 iteration of mobile telephony was the MTS network, which was entirely operator-assisted and ran over a bunch of about 25 VHF frequencies. Licklider’s paper proposing a packet-switched network to allow general communications among computer users wasn’t published until 1962. And while Jack Kilby’s first working example of an integrated circuit was demonstrated in fall of 1958, the first IC based computers didn’t come along until the 1960s.

Our time traveller from 1961 has a steep learning curve if he wants to understand the technology the folks with the cordless headsets are using. And as for the social consequences of the technologies in question – beyond lots of people wandering the streets holding conversations with imaginary companions – that’s an even longer reach. The social consequences of a new technology are almost always impossible to guess in advance.

Let me take mobile phones as an example. They let people talk to one another – that much is obvious. What is less obvious is that for the first time the telephone network connects people, not places – it’s possible for new social behaviours to emerge. For example, people who are wandering a city’s streets can contact one another and decide to meet at a coffee shop, even if neither of them is near a fixed land line for which the other has a phone number. This example might strike you as trivial, but it represents an immense behavioural shift. Add in text messaging and GPS and mobile internet access and yet more behavioural shifts are possible. The current riots in London and elsewhere in the UK, for example, appear to be coordinated by Blackberry Messenger and text messaging, as looters exchange information about promising locations that are unprotected by the police. And the behavioural consequences of mobile phones go right off the map once we have a mature LTE or WiMax network, and once the telcos have been bludgeoned into providing plumbing rather than trying to renting you the dishwasher and the kitchen taps.

For example, we’re currently raising the first generation of kids who won’t know what it means to be lost – everywhere they go, they have GPS service and a moving map that will helpfully show them how to get wherever they want to go. It’s not hard to envisage an app that goes a step beyond Google Maps on your smartphone, whereby it not only shows you how to get from point A to point B, but it can book transport to get you there – by taxi, ride-share, or plane – within your budgetary and other constraints. That’s not even far-fetched: it’s just what you get when you tie the mutant offspring of Hipmunk or Kayak into Google, and add Paypal. But to our time traveller from 1961, it’s magic: you have a little glowing box, and if you tell it “I want to visit my cousin Bill, wherever he is,” a taxi will pull up and take you to Bill’s house (if he lives nearby), or a Greyhound bus station, or the airport. (Better hope he’s not visiting Nepal; that could be expensive.)

Smartphones aren’t merely there to make your high school geography teacher weep, just as pocket calculators made maths teachers cry a generation ago. Something like 50% of smartphone users check their work email while they’re on vacation; a vast majority check work email when they’re away from their desk. The whole point of the desk was, for many people in the 20th century, to be a place of contact where co-workers or customers could reach them reliably during fixed office hours. Our phones aren’t quite up to the job of replacing the office desk today, but with picoprojectors and more bandwidth in the pipeline they show every sign of hitting that point within the next five to ten years. Even today, a typical iOS or Android handset has about as many MIPS as a workstation circa 2001–2003. It’s not immediately obvious why most office workers need many more orders of magnitude more computing power than that to get the job done – at least in their pocket, as opposed to in a server farm somewhere in the cloud.

We already saw a bunch of changes in office jobs come in with laptops. Hot-desking isn’t easy when employees are tied to a specific location by wires. Similarly, it’s going in the opposite direction in some sectors; following a spate of embarrassing “laptop left in taxi” stories in the last few years, large chunks of the British civil service no longer use laptops, instead relying on desktop PCs and wired ethernet, with biometrically authenticated thumb drives to store employee-specific credentials.

All this, of course, assumes we have jobs to go to. The whole question of whether a mature technosphere needs three or four billion full-time employees is an open one, as is the question of what we’re all going to do if it turns out that the future can’t deliver jobs. So I’m going to tip-toe away from that ticking bomb …

What of the non-employment-related impact of smartphones? Most people spend most of their lives away from the desk, away from work, doing other stuff. Surfing the web for silly cat photographs or porn, trying to keep the multiple facets of their identity from colliding messily on Facebook – forget online dating, how many teens have met their girlfriend or boyfriend’s parents for the first time via FB? – checking competitors’ prices from the aisles in WalMart, and texting while driving. We’re still in the first decade of mass mobile internet uptake, and we still haven’t seen what it really means when the internet becomes a pervasive part of our social environment, rather than something we have to specifically sit down and plug ourselves in to, usually at a desk.

So let me start by trying to predict the mobile internet of 2061.

To some extent, the shape of the future depends on whether whoever provides the basic service of communication – be it fibre in the ground or wireless or optical frequencies over the air – funds their service by charging for bandwidth or charging for a fixed infrastructure cost. The latter is vastly preferable. I’m British, and I’m carrying a smartphone today that has an IQ of about 70 – a full-fat iphone 4 that is, despite everything, as dumb as a brick. The trouble is that I’m using it with a SIM from a British cellco whose international roaming data rate is around US $5 per megabyte. Welcome back to the internet of the early 1990s! To get around the problem I’ve got a Virgin Mobile MiFi, a cellular wifi router. But it comes with an unwelcome constraint – even the so-called “unlimited” tariff limits me to 2.5Gb of data in a month. If I go over that cap, the connection will be throttled. And I could blow through that cap in a couple of hours, just by downloading a new software update for my laptop.

From my dumb consumer’s perspective, it’d be preferable to pay a higher, but fixed, price for infrastructure – then I could download all the OS updates, or movies, or whatever, at will. But this is obviously less than appealing to Sprint, or AT&T, or whoever – they’d all much rather artificially depress demand by imposing punitive charges on heavy users, because installing new infrastructure is expensive.

These two models for pricing imply very different network topologies. A model where bandwidth on the backhaul is capped implies lots of peer-to-peer traffic over local area networks and lots of caching, but relatively little long haul traffic. It implies that more powerful processors are needed at the edge of the network because offloading the job of OCR’ing that fifty page construction contract to the cloud means uploading fifty pages of bitmapped scans, which will cost money: you can’t outsource your brains. In contrast, a model where you just rent the fibre or wireless spectrum for a fixed price implies a lot more activity in the cloud, with thin clients. (And yes, I know full well we’ve been chewing this tension between business models over since the 1990s.)

This leaves aside a third model, that of peer to peer mesh networks with no actual cellcos as such – just lots of folks with cheap routers. I’m going to provisionally assume that this one is hopelessly utopian, a GNU vision of telecommunications that can’t actually work on a large scale because the routing topology of such a network is going to be nightmarish unless there are some fat fibre optic cables somewhere in the picture. It’s kind of a shame – I’d love to see a future where no corporate behemoths have a choke hold on the internet – but humans aren’t evenly distributed geographically.

Our best hope may be that the new middle-class African, Indian and Chinese populations will benefit from the kind of shiny new infrastructure that we in crumbling Europe and American can only dream of – and that eventually this goads our local infrastructure services into raising their game. Or that some radically disruptive new technology comes along: open access peer to peer mesh networks using DIY remotely piloted drones whipped up on garage 3D printers as home brew laser relays to span long distances and fill the fibre gap, for example. Mind you, the security problems of a home-brew mesh network are enormous and gnarly; when any enterprising gang of scammers can set up a public router, who can you trust? Such a world is going to be either crime-ridden or pervasively encrypted and inhabited by natives who are required to be perfectly spherical cypherpunks – just like my eighty-something parents. Not!

A brief aside on storage density is in order at this point. I’m throwing around fairly gigantic amounts of data in this talk – where are we going to store it all? The answer is, as Richard Fenyman put it in 1959, there’s plenty of room at the bottom. Let’s hypothesize a very high density, non-volatile serial storage medium that might be manufactured using molecular nanotechnology: I call it memory diamond. It’s a diamondoid mesh, within which the state of a single data bit is encoded in each atom: because we want it to be rigid and stable, we use a carbon–12 nucleus to represent a zero, and a carbon-thirteen to represent a one. How we read and write these bits is left as an exercise for the student of mature molecular nanotechnology, but we can say with some certainty that we can store Avogadro’s number of bits – 6 x 1023 – in 12.5 grams of carbon, or around 13 thousand terabytes in an ounce of memory diamond. Going by the figures in a report from UCSD last year, the average worker processed or consumed 3 terabytes per year, and there are around 3.18 billion workers; which works out at 23 tons of memory diamond needed to store everything without compression or deduplication. At a guess, once you take out cute captioned cat videos and downloads that annoy the hell out of the MPAA you can reduce that by an order of magnitude.

(So I conclude that yes, in the long term we will have more storage capacity than we necessarily know what to do with.)

Now, wireless bandwidth appears to be constrained fundamentally by the transparency of air to electromagnetic radiation. I’ve seen some estimates that we may be able to punch as much as 2 tb/sec through air; then we run into problems. This bandwidth is spread between all the users within a given cell – the smaller the cell the better, obviously. I’ve recently been hearing some interesting noise about the possibility of using multiple-input/multiple-output to get around Shannon’s Law – notably from a startup called OnLive – using multiple transmitters to produce constructive or destructive interference around each receiver’s antenna. This may be snake oil, or there may be something there. Even so, even if MIMO works perfectly, it’s hard to see how we can get past that hard limit of 2 tb/sec per wireless host.

So, let’s approximate the upper limit on bandwidth to 2 tb/person, by postulating a mixture of novel compression algorithms and really tiny cells.

What can you do with 2 terabits per second per human being on the planet? (Let alone 2tb/sec per wireless device, given that we’re already within a handful of years of having more wireless devices than people?)

One thing you can do trivially with that kind of capacity is full lifelogging for everyone. Lifelogging today is in its infancy, but it’s going to be a major disruptive technology within two decades.

The basic idea behind lifelogging is simple enough: wear a couple of small, unobtrusive camera chips and microphones at all time. Stream their output, along with metadata such as GPS coordinates and a time sequence to a server somewhere. Working offline, the server performs speech-to-text on all the dialogue you utter or hear, face recognition on everyone you see, OCR on everything you read, and indexes it against images and location. Whether it’s performed in the cloud or in your smartphone is irrelenvant – the resulting search technology essentially gives you a prosthetic memory.

We’re already used to prosthetic memory to some extent; I used Google multiple times in the preparation of this talk, to retrieve specific dates and times of stuff I vaguely recalled but couldn’t bring directly to memory. But Google and other search engines are a collective prosthetic memory that can only scrutinize the sunlit upper waters of the sea of human experience, the ones that have been committed to writing and indexed. Lifelogging offers the promise of indexing and retrieving the unwritten and undocmented. And this is both a huge promise and an enormous threat.

Initially I see lifelogging having specific niches; as an aid for people with early-stage dementia or other memory impairments, or to allow students to sleep through lectures. Police in the UK are already experimenting with real time video recording of interactions with the public – I suspect that before long we’re going to see cops required to run lifelogging apps constantly when on duty, with the output locked down as evidence. And it’ll eventually become mandatory for other people who work in professions where they are exposed to any risk that might result in a significant insurance claim – surgeons, for example, or truck drivers – not by force of law but as a condition of insurance cover.

Lifelogging into the cloud doesn’t require much bandwidth in absolute terms, although it will probably take a few years to take off if the cellcos succeed in imposing bandwidth caps. A few terabytes per year per person should suffice for a couple of basic video streams and full audio, plus locational metadata – multiply by ten if you want high definition video at a high frame rate. And the additional hardware – beyond that which comes in a 2011 smartphone – is minimal: a couple of small webcams and microphones connected over some sort of short range personal area network, plus software to do the offline indexing.

Lifelogging raises huge privacy concerns, of course. Under what circumstances can your lifelog legally be accessed by third parties? And how do privacy laws apply? It should be clear that anyone currently lifelogging in this way takes their privacy – and that of the people around them – very lightly: as far as governments are concerned they can subpoena any data they want, usually without even needing a court warrant. Projects such as the UK’s Interception Modernization Program – essentially a comprehensive internet communications retention system mandated by government and implemented by ISPs – mean that if you become a person of interest to the security services they’d have access to everything. The prudent move would be to lifelog to encrypted SSDs in your personal possession. Or not to do it at all. The security implications are monstrous: if you rely on lifelogging for your memory or your ability to do your job, then the importance of security is pushed down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. When only elite computer scientists on ARPANet had accounts so they can telnet into mainframes at another site, security was just a desirable luxury item – part of the apex of the pyramid of needs. But when it’s your memory or your ability to do paid employment, security gets to be something close to food and water and shelter: you can’t live without it.

On the up side, if done right, widespread lifelogging to cloud based storage would have immense advantages for combating crime and preventing identity theft. Coupled with some sort of global identification system and a system of access permissions that would allow limited queries against a private citizen’s lifelog, it’d be very difficult to fake an alibi for a crime, or to impersonate someone else. If Bill the Gangster claims he was in the pub the night of a bank robbery, you can just query the cloud of lifelogs with a hash of his facial features, the GPS location of the pub, and the time he claims he was there. If one or more people’s lifelogs provide a match, Bill has an alibi. Alternatively, if a whole bunch of folks saw him exiting the back of the bank with a sack marked SWAG, that tells a different story. Faking up an alibi in a pervasively lifelogged civilization will be very difficult, requiring the simultaneous corruption of multiple lifelogs in a way that portrays a coherent narrative.

So whether lifelogging becomes a big social issue depends partly on the nature of our pricing model for bandwidth, and how we hammer out the security issues surrounding the idea of our sensory inputs being logged for posterity.

Lifelogging need not merely be something for humans. You can already buy a collar-mounted camera for your pet dog or cat; I think it’s pretty likely that we’re going to end up instrumenting farm animals as well, and possibly individual plants such as tomato vines or apple trees – anything of sufficient value that we don’t kill it after it has fruited. Lifelogging for cars is already here, if you buy a high end model; sooner or later they’re all going to be networked, able to book themselves in for preventative maintenance rather than running until they break down and disrupt your travel. Not to mention snitching on your acceleration and overtaking habits to the insurance company, at least until the self-driving automobile matches and then exceeds human driver safety.

And then there are the other data sources we can import into the internet.

We’re currently living through a period in genomics research that is roughly equivalent to the early 1960s in computing. In particular, there’s a huge boom in new technologies for high speed gene sequencing. Back in 1989, it was anticipated that the human genome project would cost on the order of $3Bn and take two decades. In practice, it cost a lot less, and was completed well ahead of schedule – with around 90% of the work being done in the last 18 months, thanks to the development of automated high speed sequencers. We’re now seeing a mass of disruptive technologies for high throughput DNA sequencing appear, with full genome sequencing for individuals now available for around US $30,000, and expected to drop to around $1000–3000 within a couple of years. The technologies in question, such as DNA microarrays, are benefiting from the same miniaturisation cycle as semiconductors three to five decades ago, and analysis of the resulting data in turn relies on the availability of cheap supercomputing clusters. The Archon X-Prize for genomics, established in 2006 and likely to be won in the next couple of years, promises $10 million to “the first Team that can build a device and use it to sequence 100 human genomes within 10 days or less, with certain accuracy constraints, at a recurring cost of no more than $10,000 (US) per genome.”

Now, there’s probably no reason to exhaustively sequence your own genome more than once. And your genome isn’t the rigid determinant of your health and metabolic fate that it was believed to be in the naive, pre-scientific dark ages of the late 1980s. We are, if anything, only just beginning to scope out the extent of our own ignorance of how our cellular biology really works. But we live within an ecosystem of other organisms. Each of us is carrying around a cargo of 1–3 kilograms of bacteria and other unicellular organisms, which collectively outnumber the cells of our own bodies by a thousand to one. (They’re mostly much smaller than our own cells.) These are for the most part commensal organisms – they live in our guts and predigest our food, or on our skin – and they play a significant role in the functioning of our immune system. One of the most dangerous medical crises we face today is the spread of antibiotic resistance among pathogenic organisms: lest we forget, as recently as the 1930s fully 30% of us could expect to die of a fulminating bacterial infection. Old threats like tuberculosis are re-emerging in the form of multidrug resistant strains; and new ones are also appearing. Most members of the public seem not to understand how close we came to catastrophe in 2006 with SARS – a disease not unlike the common cold in its infectious virulence, but with a 15% associated mortality rate. Only the rapid development of DNA assays for SARS – it was sequenced within 48 hours of its identification as a new pathogenic virus – made it possible to build and enforce the strict quarantine regime that saved us from somewhere between two hundred million and a billion deaths.

A second crisis we face is that of cancer, almost invariably the emergent consequence of a malfunction within the genetic machinery of a cell that causes it to start dividing and refuse to stop. Today, 40% of the population of the UK, where I live, are expected to develop some sort of cancer at some point in their lives.

With genome sequencing microarrays tending towards the price and efficiency of VLSI circuits, and serious bandwidth available to upload and process the data stream they deliver, we can expect eventually to see home genome monitoring – both looking for indicators of precancerous conditions or immune disorders within our bodies, and performing metagenomic analysis on our environment. This will deliver both personal benefits – catching early signs of infectious diseases or cancer – but also, more importantly, providing health agencies with early warning of epidemics. If our metagenomic environment is routinely included in lifelogs, we have the holy grail of epidemiology within reach; the ability to exhaustively track the spread of pathogens and identify how they adapt to their host environment, right down to the level of individual victims.

Is losing your genomic privacy an excessive price to pay for surviving cancer and evading plagues?

Is compromising your sensory privacy through lifelogging a reasonable price to pay for preventing malicious impersonation and apprehending criminals?

Is letting your insurance company know exactly how you steer and hit the gas and brake pedals, and where you drive, an acceptable price to pay for cheaper insurance?

In each of these three examples of situations where personal privacy may be invaded, there exists a strong argument for doing so in the name of the common good – for prevention of epidemics, for prevention of crime, and for prevention of traffic accidents. They differ fundamentally from the currently familiar arguments for invasion of our data privacy by law enforcement – for example, to read our email or to look for evidence of copyright violation. Reading our email involves our public and private speech, and looking for warez involves our public and private assertion of intellectual property rights …. but eavesdropping on our metagenomic environment and our sensory environment impinges directly on the very core of our identities.

I’m not talking about our identities in the conventional information security context of our access credentials to information resources, but of our actual identities as physically distinct human beings. We use the term “identity theft” today to talk about theft of access credentials – in this regime, “identity theft” means something radically more drastic. If we take a reductionist view of human nature – as I’m inclined to – our metagenomic context (including not just our own genome and proteome, but the genome of our gut flora and fauna and the organisms we coexist with) and our sensory inputs actually define who we are, at least from the outside. And that’s not a lot of data to capture, if you look at it in the context of two terabits per second of bandwidth per person. Assume a human life expectancy of a century, and a terabit per second of data to log everything about that person, and you can capture a human existence in roughly 3.15 x 1021 bits … or about 65 milligrams of memory diamond.

With lifelogging and other forms of ubiquitous computing mediated by wireless broadband, securing our personal data will become as important to individuals as securing our physical bodies. Unfortunately we can no more expect the general public to become security professionals than we can expect them to become judo black-belts or expert marksmen. Security is going to be a perpetual, on-going problem.

Moreover, right now we have the luxury of a short history; the world wide web is twenty years old, the internet is younger than I am, and the shifting sands of software obsolescence have for the most part buried our ancient learning mistakes. Who remembers GeoCities today? Nor is there much to be gained by a black hat from brute-force decrypting a bunch of ten year old credit card accounts.

But it’s not going to be like that in the future. We can expect the pace of innovation to slow drastically, once we can no longer count on routinely more powerful computing hardware or faster network connections coming along every eighteen months or so. But some forms of personal data – medical records, for example, or land title deeds – need to remain accessible over periods of decades to centuries. Lifelogs will be similar; if you want at age ninety to recall events from age nine, then a stable platform for storing your memory is essential, and it needs to be one that isn’t trivially crackable in less than eighty-one years and counting.

Robustness and durabilitiy are going to be at a premium in the future – even if we don’t get those breakthroughs in life extension medicine that will allow you to mock me for getting it wrong when we meet again in 2561.

So, to summarize: we’re moving towards an age where we may have enough bandwidth to capture pretty much the totality of a human lifespan, everything except for what’s going on inside our skulls. Storing and indexing the data from such exhaustive lifelogging is, if not trivial, certainly do-able (the average human being utters around 5000 words per day, and probably reads less than 50,000; these aren’t impossible speech-to-text and OCR targets). And while there are plausible reasons why we might not be able to assert the overriding importance of personal privacy in such data, it’s also clear that a complete transcript of every word you ever utter in your life (or hear uttered), with accompanying visuals and (for all I know) smell and haptic and locational metadata, is of enormous value.

Which leads me to conclude that it’s nearly impossible to underestimate the political significance of information security on the internet of the future. Rather than our credentials and secrets being at risk – our credit card accounts and access to our email – our actual memories and sense of self may be vulnerable to tampering by a sufficiently deft attacker. From being an afterthought or a luxury – relevant only to the tiny fraction of people with accounts on time-sharing systems in the 1970s – security is pushed down the pyramid of needs until it’s important to all of us. Because it’s no longer about our property, physical or intellectual, or about authentication: it’s about our actual identity as physical human beings.



Disruptive tech - the artificial hippocampus connected to a lifelogger


Great Lecture! On the topic of lifelogging something I see as being a current version is the cycling community in London. In response to increasing levels of harassment over recent years many cyclists are buying cheap helmet cams and recording their commutes. In the past month there have been quite a few news stories which have featured helmet cam video of people getting out of their cars to assault cyclists.

With better software for face recognition, numberplate recognition, GPS etc these cams can act as a mobile CCTV network for traffic related crime. Undoubtedly there are huge avenues for abuse and people will be horrified at the obtrusiveness but hey, this is the future and no one promised you privacy.


Boeings don’t lay eggs Not even B-52s? ;-)

Lifelogging for cars is already here, if you buy a high end model; sooner or later they’re all going to be networked, able to book themselves in for preventative maintenance rather than running until they break down and disrupt your travel. Not to mention snitching on your acceleration and overtaking habits It's been done to some extent. I know of a case where McLaren cars called the German owner of one of their M1 model, to advise him that it had been recorded as doing over 200mph on an autobahn on Sunday morning. His response was along the lines of "yes, that's quite right".

Ryan @ #2 - Have any of these cyclists managed to get themselves charged for criminal damage, jumping a red light or riding on the pavement yet?


Actually on the subject of self incrimination you raise a good point. What happens when police wearing lifelogging equipment rout the feed to software that looks for any infraction before identifying the people involved and sending them a fine.

There's a myriad of crimes that the public constantly partake in, especially when it comes to driving/cycling and even walking. The reason being is that for that specific situation you judged it to be safe to do what you did (i.e. ride your bike across a no cycling path because no one was on it or do a U-turn on a road that prohibits it because the road is empty).


As far as the legal system goes, it appears we are painting ourselves into an ever smaller corner.


There is no defence of "there was no-one else there" in law. Quite aside how from I usually see cyclists perform 2 of those behaviours (not the criminal damage) on busy city centre streets during shopping hours.


Hands up: how many people read the name of the conference as "UNISEX"?

Just me then?

I'll get my coat...


... And right on cue, the cycle-haters turn up.

Folks, discussion of lifelogging is on topic here. Discussion of the eeeevil cyclists is not, and will get your comments moderated from now on.


Couple of extremely minor typos: "iphone" should be "iPhone" "Fenyman" should be "Feynman"

Brilliant talk. What was the reception like? Incredulous, I'm guessing...


UNISEX? you mean network administrators aren't?

Oops, is that the time? gotta run ...


I wonder if one of the difficult to predict social and societal changes that lifelogging and wide-bandwidth connections will bring is the arrival of collectives? Meaning here groups who voluntarily give up their individuality in favour of sharing every aspect of their identity and experiences with each other. I can imagine teenagers (the ultimate seekers of peer-approval) being particularly susceptive to this kind of thing. And what are the consequences of this behaviour? Might it lead to a generation who actively expect no privacy (in the same way children growing up now accept, or at least fail to question, the pervasive presence of CCTV)?

(I'm pretty sure that ideas like this have been touched on before - can't remember where, probably somewhere in Charlie's own books at some point!)


One shortish term prediction, driven by Hollywood lawyers - proliferation of darknets.


While sequencing your global DNA only needs a single read, with the advent of single cell sequencing, it may be read more frequently, much like the hypothesized testing for your microbe ecology (or at least parts of it).

It is not just epidemiology that will benefit from micro flora testing. If the research in the effects of your gut bacteria on health and disease proves real and informative, Bruce Sterling's prediction that we will be monitoring and tailoring those populations will prove true. But who would have thought that this monitoring might be done very frequently and analyzed with the rest of your body's health signs and interactions.


In the actual talk, you mentioned the case of the web cam view of a state officer being taken down. In a world where recording devices are nearly invisible and ubiquitous, this might become impossible to stop.

One scenario is that personal data capture will be from devices either unobtrusively attached to you or very nearby. A very intrusive panopticon.

Will security even make a difference in such a world, where every blade of grass is recording you? (And like Bod Shaw's "slow glass", the data need not be transmitted, but just captured and collected later).


Re: Police and LifeLogging

Lots of policeman in the United States use in-car cameras to log interactions with the public. Some of them have 8-hour blocks, and some have some kind of auto-activate when the officer triggers the flashing lights (or some such method).

While it's not life-logging, it has produced some real surprises. Some officers have made very bad mistakes (not following official policy, verbally/physically abusing people who may be suspicious but have not committed a crime, etc) and been officially reprimanded because of evidence from the cameras.

Previous to in-car cameras, the evidence was a citizen's word against a policeman's word, and police generally gave the benefit of the doubt to their own people...

So we're already seeing some of the effects of such policy.

But security of the data is paramount. If the data isn't trustworthy, then neither police nor citizen can trust it.

As an example: at least one conspiracy theorist has attempted to get the official video records from the FBI/ATF of the last day of the standoff between them and a compound full of people in Waco, TX in the 1990's. After a year or two of stonewalling and FOIA maneuvering, a videotape turned up. The tape was blank, and no explanation is available for how this happened.

Since the video data is gone, there is no proof (pro or con) about the day's events, other than the official written record released by the FBI. Thus, the conspiracy theorist (not being a complete nut) has concluded that something suspicious happened, but he doesn't have a clear idea as to what it was.

As you say in your speech, hacked life-log data is worse than blank life-log data. But network security has to focus on preventing both.


Noted, will avoid all cycling comments. However along the same theme to deter many types of harassment lifelogs would be a great thing. People would be less inclined to partake in antisocial behaviour if they knew that everything they did was recorded, especially if that data is indexed in such a way that if they ever did get into trouble a search of the cloud data (with permission from lifelog witnesses) all such behaviour could be exposed.


The impact on crime is going to be interesting. Even trying to secure privacy in order to commit one is going to be fairly obvious. Life logging would expose the intent of those hard to convict financial crimes. Petty crime is going to be impossible. The response of authorities is going to be really obvious.

Even trivially, the death of Ian Tomlinson near the G20 protests would be lifelogged, including the details of his injuries. If you even needed a jury, they might even be subjected to the physical sensory data of the assault.

In such a world, would the authorities even try to cover up the act by trying to falsify the many lifelogged data stores?


In a world where every action is logged, why even go to the trouble of using face rcognition? Everyone is just SPIMEd and all the people you come in contact with are automatically recorded by IDs.

Effectively this is already being done by Foursquare and its ilk. It would make tracing contact patterns much easier.


I am most definitely in two minds ...

I am sometimes on the side of "well if you have nothing to hide..." then reality kicks back in and I realize the huge potential for a lopsided surveillance environment to grow and become insidiously ubiquitous.

Such ubiquity of opportunity to surveille is most definitely a cusp, a singularity, and I can't predict what comes next with any plausibility (which is one reason Charlie's the writer and not me!)

I do see, already, the casual acceptance of reduced or zero privacy in my teenage son and his friends -- they all seem to think it OK to chat, record, share pretty much anything and everything. What will their world look like, when they are greyhairs like me - I have no idea.

Am I scared by it? Only to the extent that it will be so relatively easy to suborn by those in power (financially, technically, or politically)

The recent Murdoch phone-hacking scandals are merely a taste of things to come. I am not a high-profile, or high-value target. It's not worth anyone's time to look deeply at me or my personal history. But if such hacking was easy and cheap, it becomes easy for bit players to cause harm to anyone.

Also easy to ignore that harm if you simply don't care, right?


Submariner: No, not just you.

As to self-incrimination ... well, the upshot might be that there will be pressure to modify rules and laws in such a way, that a human being can reasonably be expected to be able to know them and to be able to keep them without locking themselves up in a dark lonely chamber ...

Given that we currently need several books of cross-referenced entries to describe the rules according which our society is supposed to function - of which you should know the text (verbatim if possible) and the consequences in order to be able to judge whether what you are currently doing is lawful or not - we certainly need a different paradigm in that respect.


I can definitely see the proliferation of lifeblogging for the police forces and other social services. It's really a small step from the camera in the car recording the actions of a team to a camera on the shoulder recording the actions of every individual.

And as the cameras get more pervasive, the ability to alter the evidence becomes more .. tricky.

While a single team of corrupt individuals will be able to manipulate their imagery to provide the narrative they want to show, the small scale nature of it will still be vulnerable to traditional forms of challenge.

On the other hand, think of the mass disorder that allows individuals to get away with assault, say for example the police response to the G20 summit. If every cop in the line had a camera recording what was happening around them, both sides would have a clear cut case as to what actually happened. And if 50 cameras had sealed evidentiary records, it becomes a LOT harder to tamper with them all in a short period of time. Remember, most cops are just doing their jobs, and they dislike the corrupt ones more than most.


It also will provide a huge amount of protection for Social Services when the inevitable witchhunts start up following an event.

Investigators can track back to the evidential record of the visits, and see what actions each party did.

The key would be so long as the equipment is ubiquitous, and the storage requirements abstracted away from the users, then the likelyhood of tampering is reduced, and the fact that the users will forget the cameras are even there will mean you'll catch those who abuse their positions. For examples, see US police and in car cameras.

Data storage is getting cheaper and cheaper, universal storage of years of video will be easily done on commodity hardware in less than ten years. Designing in proper access restrictions from the start will have a big impact on abuse as well.


When humans lived in much smaller groups, privacy as we think of it, was much more limited. For the superstitious, there every action was noted by an invisible "god", even when they were alone. It has been the advent of the large city that has made anonymity and privacy much more common. In a sense, we are returning to that older world.

My guess is that while the accuracy of recordings clearly far surpasses that of human memory, the focus will be on the interpretation of the data. Court cases won't address the determination of the "facts" from witnesses, but rather what those facts mean, the intent of the accused. As we saw with the Rodney King beating, a jury can be influenced. I wonder if cases will be more like movie criticism, where the jurors (if they still exist) will be asked to critique the recorded evidence by certain criteria and reach a consensus from that perspective.


Life logging would expose the intent of those hard to convict financial crimes. Petty crime is going to be impossible.

Er, not exactly.

Petty crime will still happen on impulse; some folks are too impulsive to refrain, and too stupid to figure out why they keep getting caught. What will happen is that the case cleanup rate for impulsive offences will sky-rocket.

Exposing the intent of hard-to-convict financial crimes ... in general those fraudsters aren't as stupid as the random muggers or impulse burglars. They're smart enough to establish some nod-and-wink code words with their co-conspirators, by prior agreement during an unlogged session; that's enough to make it rather hard to use those speech-to-text transcripts to figure out what's going on. Especially when there are months or years of lifelog to crawl through to find out what's happening.


I should have said, "Petty crime is going to be get away with". I just assumed that not being caught was implicit.

I agree that sophisticated criminals will use code words and gestures, but they have to be learned, and with powerful computers, the meaning of those signals will be extractable from the recorded data. A high profile case will put a lot of resources behind that brute force method.

Prosecutors will still be able to try to coerce co-conspirators to fess up and provide the clues to reduce the effort.

The cognitive load for successful crime is going to be high. I wonder if all the lifelogged data can be used to offset that load with suitable algorithms to help weave that web of lies in a coherent way?


Speaking as someone who still winces at social faux pas remembered from 20 years ago, not looking forward to ubiquitous lifelogging.

As has been mentioned, it would be like going back to living in a small band of hunter gatherers who have known you all your life. The appeal of cities vanishes given these circumstances, so I expect to see a mass exodus to the countryside enabled by telecommuting for even the middle class, and probable push back reactions against surveillance, opting out, fighting it legally and technologically (Diamond memory eating nanotech!) and maybe extreme depersonalization anonymizing lifestyles such as those adopted by people in the Clarke/Baxter novel Light from another day (Full bodysuits, talking by writing on palms, etc) granted their wormhole surveillance was even more comprehensive than this one.


Mr Stross, can you point to whatever resources did you find to explain the SARS situation and how did we avoid it?

I'm a bit tired of hearing the same "common sense" explanation that it was all bullshit, like "pig flu" and "global warming" and what not, oh those stupid scientist what would they do next to be on TV.

Bit of data to refute next bit of idiocy I see would be welcome, if you have your notes around.


...push back reactions against surveillance, opting out, fighting it legally and technologically...

I agree. Given the revelations about phone hacking, I wouldn't trust the security for a lifelog either. The sex lives of celebrities posted on porn sites as a start. While for many people who want to remain anonymous this may be possible, it may not be for celebrities who must maintain a public persona to remain so. It seems unlikely that every technological approach to observing them can be blocked - e.g. mobile, insect mimicking drone recorders (Paparazzi flies).

It will be interesting to see the arms race develop.


You might find the SARS Wikipedia link useful to get you started.


As per usual, Warren Ellis is on top of these things:


Yep. That's exactly the kind of "freaky to us that haven't grown up with it" kind of thing that I was thinking of (thanks for the link!)

I also saw someone mention Clarke & Baxter's "Light of Other Days", which I think I remember having groups who used the story's worm-hole tech to link minds directly. But it didn't really capture the unearthly vibe that Warren Ellis' story did, and what I suspect the future of teenager-dom will look like.


Twenty years ago, almost to the day, a very good friend of mine died in police custody. Although I believe the police's account (that they weren't to blame), I'll never know for sure and that does bother me - mainly for personal reasons but also for the wider implications.

More generally, there's so much of my life I wish I'd documented.

If crime detection rates rise so that almost everyone is a criminal, then hopefully there will be a corresponding rise in leniency for minor offenses, or even outright legalisation - e.g. so many people have been caught driving faster than they should have been that there's almost no social stigma attached, and generally you don't even need to go to court. But you're still screwed if you go at 250mph.

And for serious crime, there's always Moscow Rules, and Mission Impossible (TV) type capers.


Personally, I do not think lifelogging by itself would be quite so powerful as some imagine, for catching criminals. But I can easily imagine people coming down very hard on people that wear disguises. I can imagine something like the google plus crackdown on mononymous persons happening, in the future, to people that change their appearance in "the wrong way".

But a big difference between computer security violations and physical security violations is that the non-expert may frequently have their security violated without them knowing it. This has some commonality with disease vectors, but with diseases you either eventually discover that you are sick or it's a non-issue. Computer security breaches can have a very long "incubation time". And, depending on the nature of the breach, you might never have sufficient evidence to show that the breach occurred. (This can change, radically, for people armed with the right kinds of tools and with an adequate understanding of the technology.) So I think that computer security failure modes have probably already drifted into the realm of the bizarre, for most people.


I think I have been thinking about this more like you seem to be.

After all, at some point in the past, people must have been thinking "You know, in the future, we'll have some kind of technology that'll record these events, and then there will be proof of what really happened!" And yet we still don't have tamper-proof methods of recording events.

No doubt the same advances that make lifelogging more comprehensive (if you have a smartphone, think about the number of ways you're already recording your life now) will be accompanied by ways to subvert lifelogging: holographic decoys, modified logging devices, distributed logging modification tools (to correct all those logs that show you in place X at time Y) ... we'll still have to have watchdogs to ensure that what is reported is what actually happened, we'll still have to check our records periodically to make sure nothing that we can see has been tampered with, that kind of thing.


What if lifelogging was made mandatory? - so that not logging your own life was in itself a suspicious action. That could be very difficult for people who simply don't want their whole lives to be open - and that is not entirely a generational thing. Otherwise: a great lecture, I really enjoyed reading it & thinking about it.


If Eve ever gets access to Alice's memory-crystal, it's pretty much over for Alice. Passwords or any personal information can't be used (so much for the time-honored movie evil-twin cliché, where the identity is revealed through a shared private experience), nor can biometrics (the crystal would also store all relevant health data).

If Alice finds out that Eve has had access to the crystal, then Alice can re-encrypt her data with a new key. But Alice might not know. She should assume the worst, and re-encrypt anyway. Perhaps it will become de rigeuer to re-encrypt your crystal based on novel experiences on a regular basis. People who have a lot to lose from identity theft (the rich, the powerful) will want to have unpredictable experiences at a high rate (daily?) so their exposure to identity theft is limited.

Of course, Eve can re-encrypt the data as well. How does Bob know which is the real Alice? What identifying token could Bob use, that wasn't stored in Alice's lifelog?


Aside from police, what other professions are being monitored and recorded routinely as of now? I don't think surgeons are being filmed unless it's a novel operation or for teaching purposes, but I could be wrong...


It may have been said before, but routing in mesh networking may not be as hard as it once seemed. Recently I saw this paper:

Fast Information Spreading in Graphs with Large Weak Conductance

I wonder if one of the difficult to predict social and societal changes that lifelogging and wide-bandwidth connections will bring is the arrival of collectives?

Charlie had a throwaway in his latest about how the essence of modern forensics and policing is good management and good tracking protocols. Sherlock Holmes had nothing on the modern team who when all was said in done were doing professional lifelogging with a very specialized set of forms.[1]

Now that factoid was just a bit of background filler, but I think this is where you'll see the really big social changes: better ways to coordinate the activities of any group assembled with a common purpose in mind. And the organization of these groups will be infinitely more flexible and customizable than the old templates that obsessively rely on a top-down management structure; think of Bruce Sterling's "Maneki Neko", for example, or Walter Williams "This is not a Game".

On a personal note, this probably means that the good old days of the isolated nerd reading that wild Gernsback stuff and thinking that nobody gets him will be a thing of the dead past.

[1]I imagine that in the future any group of people, from cop shops to emerging to democracies to comic book swap meets will be able to down-load all sorts of ready-made management templates that can be customized with a few clicks of a mouse button. It won't all be that hellish equivalent of Windoze.


Lifelogging could have some fairly important implications for life at work. It's easy to imagine companies demanding you wear the company supplied logger all day to record meetings and your work behaviour. Getting second guessed about decisions is bad enough, without having a video record... although that cuts both ways. "but you told me to do that, here's video evidence" is something a lot of management might find particularly worrying.

Would you be allowed to operate your own life-logger at work? What happens when it records commercially sensitive information? If you're under an NDA what does that mean for your life-log? Would your employers have rights to part of it, or even all of it?

It would change meetings and informal agreements as well. When you can go back and replay what you were promised in your supplier meeting last november, or your informal job appraisal with the human resources director, word for word, it changes the importance of verbal agreements. What happens to contracts when every word you say can be witnessed and replayed, especially during lawsuits? Recording casual interactions gives them a weight that they currently don't have, and I think it'd seriously cripple most work-places if you had to measure every word you said for how it may look on your life-log.

Personally i think the benefit of having a record of who said what at work would be a huge boon. I'm far too honest and it's not always a benefit. Being able to call out bullshitters with full video evidence would be a dream come true!

No doubt the same advances that make lifelogging more comprehensive (if you have a smartphone, think about the number of ways you're already recording your life now) will be accompanied by ways to subvert lifelogging: holographic decoys, modified logging devices, distributed logging modification tools (to correct all those logs that show you in place X at time Y)

Indeed. I can see a scenario where every public place gradually gets wired for CCTV cameras spaced every ten meters or so and the rise of services that allow you to tap those indexed feeds for your lifelogging activities. Record yourself from six different angles at all times! Edit your video for posterity! So read the promos. Think of it as the 21st century version of your parents and grandparents old photo albums; only instead of a few hundred or thousand snapshots, you'll have 24/7 tagged video archives (keyed to some personal transponder signal no doubt) that you can play around with.


Perhaps things look different to folks who are protected (for whatever it may be worth) by European-style data privacy laws. But here in the US, the land of the easy-to-get subpoena and of "we comply with all law enforcement requests and may or may not notify you after the fact" the whole idea of life-logging (or more currently, cloud storage) strikes me as lunacy. There are so many offenses in so many realms, we are all criminals; the only current saving grace is that nobody can prove it unless they are highly motivated. But in a world where any citizen the authorities are "interested" in can have his data grabbed and machine-searched until offenses are identified, the only rational response of the citizen is to log as little as possible, store as little as possible, and store that under the most secure encryption the citizen can manage, trusting nobody else with the keys.

Lifelogging could have some fairly important implications for life at work. It's easy to imagine companies demanding you wear the company supplied logger all day to record meetings and your work behaviour. Getting second guessed about decisions is bad enough, without having a video record... although that cuts both ways. "but you told me to do that, here's video evidence" is something a lot of management might find particularly worrying.

Well, not just at work. Think about the mandatory recording of every public official, everybody from your local cops and school boards on up to your national figures, Senators, Presidents, cabinet members and the like. See, while Charlie is correct in noting the large-scale transition to democratic forms of government over the last century, the emphasis is on "form". Big chunks of supposedly "democratic" government are democratic in name and outward appearance only.

And seriously, do you think the transition to those democratic forms would have been quite so widespread if the traditional elites had not been able to retain their old powers and privileges under the new system? Well, at least we have the elites on record as favoring democracy.

So the battles and the class wars continue, albeit in a colder form. Note that a lot of the authoritarian crap that's coming out now isn't anything new; for the most part its always been there for those with the wit to see it. It's just that back in the day it was much easier for the elites to conceal their heavy-handedness from a public had far fewer sources of information to rely on and those much more easily controlled by a central authority. Of course most people weren't as aware of the atrocities and abuses of power we see as the "new" norm![1]

These new technologies just might be the thing to seriously weaken the grip these old Aristos still have on power. At the very least their dissembling and obfuscations will become blindingly obvious and they won't be able to get away with stuff like always coming down on the side of the police in the name of "good government".

[1]Yep, the Chomsky thing again. Does anyone these days seriously disagree with his thesis about our supposedly "open" public discourse?

that's enough to make it rather hard to use those speech-to-text transcripts to figure out what's going on. Especially when there are months or years of lifelog to crawl through to find out what's happening.

And who said there are few employment opportunities for the unskilled and younger set? You could even frame this as Work At Home While Watching TV!


Aside from police, what other professions are being monitored and recorded routinely as of now?

Pilots and truckers, for starters. Cockpit Voice Recorder in the former, but they'll maybe want to add video eventually, for context (pilots tackling a crisis tend to stop vocalizing except for vital communications and the terminal "... oh SHIT!"). Truckers have tachographs and, sometimes, dashboard video. Buses are getting front-pointing cameras as well as the eight or so dotted around the passenger area, so that if they hit a cyclist/pedestrian there's a record of the circumstances.

Taxis, too, come to think of it -- although the cameras are mostly pointed at the passengers (in case they throw a strop).

I don't know about trains, but it wouldn't surprise me. Ships ... well, there's a reason we call it "logging", yes?

I would expect that the caring professions, including teachers and lecturers, will be using it soon for reason of self-insurance against accusations of molestation or abuse.


Personally i think the benefit of having a record of who said what at work would be a huge boon. I'm far too honest and it's not always a benefit. Being able to call out bullshitters with full video evidence would be a dream come true!

Folks who will hate this: corporate sociopaths!

("No, I didn't imagine Bert telling me that I could take it easy today. And if you check my log you'll see that at no point did he tell me I was working on your drop-dead project. Hmm. Do you suppose Bert is trying to get you to complain about me so he can get me fired? If so, who do you think is next on his list ...?")


Great talk, Charlie, but you skimmed over an absolutely vital question, of "what we're all going to do if it turns out that the future can't deliver jobs".

You've waved your hands and said that, thanks to nukes and renewables, we can have increasing amounts of energy within constrained resources, that of a carbon-neutral economy. It's increasingly obvious that we also need a nitrogen-neutral and phosphorus-neutral economy, that there are caps on the amount of land and freshwater, the rate of biodiversity loss, and so on. (I'm cribbing from Rockström's "Planetary Boundaries" paper here.)

Given those limits, we're hoping for increasing economic growth through innovation, by increasing the efficiency of wealth generation per unit of resource. However, there's also the question of creating increasing numbers of jobs within those constraints, at a rate that at least matches the population growth rate. This looks to be both a hard problem and an unexplored problem. I'd suggest that this problem will have more influence on the politics of the 21st Century than any other. (And on security too, to drag this back onto topic.)


Charlie gave a great, thought-provoking keynote talk!

For those who would like to see a video of his talk, it is available at (Thanks to Usenix for making this freely available to the public, with no registration or payment required.) Enjoy!


"...their dissembling and obfuscations will become blindingly obvious and they won't be able to get away with stuff..."

With the internet, you would have thought that this would already happen. Fact checking is easy, as is recalling what was said in the past. But I see little sign of it. Politicians and pundits still manage to get away with saying things that contradict reality and their earlier utterances. Would lifelogging make that much difference?

We saw with the Breitbart "sting" videos, that it wasn't so much having caught a target on video tape, the damage was done by manipulating the content and aggressively promoting it.
I would argue the Wikileaks state department cables are similar - data without much follow through does little.

Even having access to lifelogging data may not mean much if it isn't acted upon. In a world drowning in data, Warhol's "15 minutes of fame" will seem like an age as the next shiny tidbit is exposed. "So the senator was having sex with a sheep?"


What if lifelogging was made mandatory? - so that not logging your own life was in itself a suspicious action.

I think that option is pretty much impossible; it'd be like making carrying a mobile phone mandatory.

It's difficult to avoid carrying a mobile, but not impossible: difficult because inconvenient, not difficult because illegal.

On the other hand, I figure lifelogging may well become as normal as carrying a phone, and not having a lifelog might be drastically inconvenient in various ways (left as an exercise for the reader).


Maybe the game changer for Google now that it's buying a handset manufacturer?


[Pilots] Cockpit Voice Recorder in the former, but they'll maybe want to add video eventually, for context..

I was reading about this after the recent recovery of the downed Air France flight flight recorder. Airlines could add more recording, but the expense (especially for inflight transmission) and string union push back prevented it. The former will go away, but perhaps not the latter. Perhaps an early example of what an earlier commentator said about retaining privacy. Perhaps professionals used to lifelogging will dissipate the angst in the future.


I agree - given the number of laws on the books and the inability of said laws to keep up with modern technology I can see there would be quite a number of problems with lifelogging. Like the now ubiquitous 'pre-employment credit check', employers would take unfair advantage of the presence of the lifelogger. With the US already incarcerating a disproportionate number of its citizens, it would be a disaster to criminalize all of us.

The 'if you have nothing to hide' argument makes me rage. I'm glad Charlie focused some importance on the need for security. Not much was said about the social and cultural impacts, but this wasn't the forum for that kind of consideration. The entire concept of privacy and personal versus public information would undergo transformation. If not carefully shepherded, it would be a dangerous transformation given the willingness of governments and corporations both to mine, use, abuse, and disseminate any data they can get their hands on in ways that are not ethical and in many cases shady on the legal front.

As always, we'll have to watch the future coming with great interest...


Personally, I look at biology when I think about lifelogging. Human brains have some powerful resources for forgetting, even though people with eidetic memories prove it's possible to live with a human brain and remember everything in your life. That suggests that forgetting is actually useful, since eidetic memories are rare, and not as useful as they may seem. If lifelogging becomes ubiquitous, I suspect we'll find out, very painfully, why forgetting is important.

As for medicine, I can pretty confidently predict that ecological medicine will become the norm within 30 years, because the rumblings are already here.

Here's the scoop: cancer and infectious disease are effectively the same thing. In an infectious disease, the organism is foreign, while in cancer, the agent is a previously human cell that, after undergoing mutation, has "decided" to take up the life of a protozoan parasite in your body. Your immune system deals with both the same way.

As we've learned with both antibiotic resistant pathogens and pesticide resistant pests, blanket application of the latest wonder chemical acts as a selective force, not a cure, and evolution of resistance works faster than does development of new antibiotics and pesticides. Moreover, there are always massive peripheral consequences to blanket treatments that can be as bad or worse than the initial problem.

In weed control, ecologists are getting much more savvy about working in ecosystems to control weeds, by catching infestations early, using a variety of control techniques, limiting habitat for weeds, and so on. By contrast, medicine is still like that 1970s farmer, looking for the next DDT. Doctors would rather prescribe drugs to kill things, even if there's only a modest chance that the drug will have any effect. Side effects and the effects of such drugs on the wider environment are not considered.

My prediction is that the ecologists' experience in weed control will work its way into medicine (it is in journal articles already). In the next few decades, I expect this will change medicine substantially. This will mean more sophisticated monitoring, but less harsh treatment. A doctor may tell you to come back in three months after a cancer diagnosis, simply because your immune system will likely have eliminated the cancer without outside help.

This leads to an interesting issue: if we truly start treating human bodies as ecosystems, it's going to be seen as an attack on "the self," something that is holy in western civilization to theists and atheists alike. If less of your personal ecosystem is "you," and your memories are scattered hither and yon in the cloud, and if some of your memories are either shared or owned by others...who are you? This will probably seriously chaff some religious groups, especially those who equate ego with soul. Conversely, it may lead to increased popularity of groups that focus on community more than on the individual.


There were employee-horror-stories of company PC's with monitoring software more than a decade ago.

Imagine the Company lifelogging you, and then asking you why you spend 10% of your time staring at the cubicle wall...are they sure you are thinking about that big project?


Cruise ships already get logged. The bridge and engine control rooms have voice recorders, the engine room alarms are logged (electronically and on a hard copy printer), and on more advanced ships the integrated bridge system (which combines radar, GPS, chart, depth sounders and autopilot) is logged.

When i worked on P&O ships the deck and engine crew had to be given 24 hours notice before any test or maintenance so that they could avoid slagging off the captain/chief engineer before it got listened to. Unless something like this happens...

when it suddenly becomes very interesting to the NTSB. I believe the logging system was used to prove that while the second officer reacted poorly, the initial problem was caused by the captain and first mate dicking with the autopilot settings.


David Drake’s “Lacey and His Friends” goes into some of this. It’s a very, very dark word, even darker than most of Drake’s work.

Several things stand out as inevitable in a world of ubiquitous surveillance.

One, the list of criminal actions must be shortened to something reasonable. What eventually emerges will still be too long, but lots of it will only be invoked after the perpetrator comes to official attention for something else. There will be lots and lots of room for abuse here.

Two, our Glorious Leaders will be more or less exempt. Until they cross “the” line. Then they will be guilty of everything and anything. As noted by another poster, when they do something unacceptable, the evidence will often “vanish.” Or there will be various silly excuses offered as to why it can’t be released. National Security is the current favorite.

Three, the world will adapt. The crimes of many powerful people will be of the “Would someone Ride me of this troublesome Priest” form. Those who properly interpret this request will prosper (in some dark corner.) The rest will receive “justice.” As an example, when Greenpeace tried to stop some French nuclear weapons tests, their boat got sunk. Part of the French team responsible was promptly convicted. Once everything quieted down, the team went home and got promoted. Look for more of this kind of thing. There will be little or no direct connection, just an understanding.

Four, some sort of vastly improved, variable, Statute of Limitations will be necessary. Many things that were normal in the past are now “Crimes Against Humanity!” Five, there will be many new crimes and obnoxious behaviors. Think Tattle Tails, Stalking, Peeping Toms, Sex Tapes, Black Mail, etc. As noted above, there will be lots of video and data available. The modern equivalent of the snoopy old lady will be looking for any excuse to sic the cops on pretty much anybody. And she will have a world full of video and data to look at.

One way to break the security on the data of “interesting” people might be to dream-up or manufacture a crime. Then their life data would be available to the police. Then they arrange a few favors to a suitable police officer and a copy somehow appears where only they can “find” it. See the recent phone hacking scandal


Only 10%? Most engineers I have worked with its closer to 50%


And then there's the possibility of a backlash: people who resent the ubiquitous participatory Panopticon and only go out in public wearing full-length veils or Philip K Dick's scramble suits.

There's also "counter measures": if (for example) government secret services wanted to "disappear" someone in a public place they could subpoena and/or edit the lifelogs of all those in proximity.

Another point (already raised by Charlie in "Accelerando") is how having immediate HUD-access to your lifelog will affect people's cognition. If you've been brought up with lifelogging, how does your brain learn to "remember" on its own?


Charlie touched on it a bit at the end, but to the extent that memory becomes an externalized function, the compromise of private data by unauthorized access is only half the danger -- what happens if someone decides to start erasing and/or rewriting? Your milage may vary as to how big of a change would go unnoticed and pass as true, but just as you would know something was wrong if your calculator or spreadsheet said 1+1=3, but might not double check if it said the square root of 697 was 26.5008, I can imagine that for older or smaller memories we'd be quite ready to believe altered memories (after all, we already do it all the time with the wetware), espesically if we're accustomed to relying on our lifelogs. That's where Charlie's talk about identity exhaustively defined being at stake really gives me pause, and that's speaking as someone who is on the whole optimistic about outsourcing mental processes to external technology.


Also, I totally see why you left it aside in this conversation, but I'd love to hear your thoughts in some later blogpost about what the world might look like if it turns out a mature technological society doesn't require quite most of its citizens of age and competence to work 40 hours a week -- it's a topic that's always fascinated me, and most of the answers I've seen from futurists have been either way too optimistic or handwaved the problem away. You've touched a little on post-scarcity economics in some of your fiction (Accellerando, Glasshouse, and parts of the Eschaton duology come to mind), but I'd love to hear your take with the futurist hat on.


Lifelogging politicians:

Of course, basic respect for the President's dignity will require that the lifelog is turned off whenever the President is taking a dump.

So all important Presidential meetings will take place in the Presidential lavatory.


We're already there. The answer is some people working long hours, and millions of unemployed.


But clearly that's not a sustainable long-term answer (and where we are right now isn't primarily about the person-hours needed to support modern civilization so much as about current economic realities).


"With genome sequencing microarrays tending towards the price and efficiency of VLSI circuits..."

You're mixing references to two distinct technologies here. Microarrays use DNA probes to detect presence and possibly quantities of specific DNA sequences in a sample. Sequencing refers to technologies that read off the specific order of bases in DNA.

I'm dealing with piles of newer sequencing data now and it's crazy; the Moore's law equivalent for this technology is about 8-10 months i.e. twice the sequence for the same price. The latest data sets we're getting consist of ~100 million 51 base pair reads with associated quality data. And these are from systems a couple of generations behind the bleeding edge.


Well, there's some people working ludicrous hours, many unemployed, and a growing class of people who work reasonable hours for enough income to match their aspirations. I have friends who work 25 hours a week, own their own yurt and laptop and very little else. My partner works three days a week as a consultant and two as a circus performer.

The key here, at a personal level, is that aspirations have to be absolute not relative. I'm rich enough to do everything I want to do, I'm not rich enough to buy a new Aston Martin, so my sense of fulfillment depends upon not getting sucked in by the advertising trying to imply that someone in my career should aim to have a new Aston.

At a society level, yes, this means (some) workers are choosing to generate less financial wealth and spreading around the work to be done. The overall impact is, or should be, a topic for further discussion.


Actually, Lyndon Johnson was way ahead of you. Check out this video from Doris Kearns Goodwin.


Here's one thing I'm wondering. For the last ~30 years, we've had a largely consumer-driven economy. Since that's a good chunk of my life, I'm not sure what drove various economies before that (yes, I know about planned economies).

The reason I'm asking is that, in the US at least, it's becoming impossible to be ideological consumers any more. We took out massive debt to have a materialist life-style, it wasn't as fun as we wanted, and now we have to pay it off.

That's fine, but what comes next? We're burned on consumerism, burned on military spending, and unwilling (due to political gridlock) to seriously engage in things like infrastructure renewal and transition to a more sustainable economy.

Where are the jobs going to be? There's more money than has ever existed looking to be used profitably, there are intelligent people sitting around unemployed, and there's work that needs to be done. Are we're missing a vision, or some story (like consumerism) that will get people moving?

I don't know what that vision would be, but then again, I really understand how we became consumers, in the first place. What drove capitalist economies before citizens became consumers. Any insights?


Why is it unsustainable? There is the cost of paying unemployment benefits, and of policing the odd riot, but these are evidently affordable.


Interesting thought - little crime might be harder to get away with than big crime in a lifelogged future. Getting away with a petty crime in full pulbic view - need to consistently modify hundreds of court verifiable lifelogs with unknown and variable levels of encryption, and do it all on the fly.

On the other bombing a major financial center using home made airborne drones launched from an off shore home fabbed remotely operate submarine - still rather hard and needing a completely different skill set, but perhaps actually easier (both to commit and cover tracks)(especially considering that some members of the public are going to be impressively paranoid about lifelog security :) ).

I'm going to find a corner to gibber in till the future stops being terrifying, or the happy pills take effect.


What drove capitalist economies before citizens became consumers.

Some economic historians claim that a "Consumer Revolution" occurred before/with the British Agricultural Revolution, and it was this that kick-started the Industrial Revolution -- the original one, which was 99% about textiles. (Of course there were lots of other things going on too.)

The idea is that people went from having the clothes they wore and about twenty other possessions, including the knife they ate with and farming tools, to having pottery plates and cups, more than one set of clothes, and those ultimate consumer status symbols, a looking-glass and a table. Things snowballed from there... a Bible. Candles. Glass in the windows. Etc.

Before this time, capitalism largely meant clubs of merchants pooling together to finance the importation of luxury goods to sell to the nobility, and the financing of wars.

Where are the jobs going to be?

Meaning, what new kinds of employment will be invented to replace obsolete jobs? I wonder too. Even with Charlie's technological plateau, we'll have machines that could do a great number of jobs that are now done by people -- miner and magistrate, farmer and financier, builder, bus driver and brain surgeon.

There's no problem, we're told: human desires are infinite in number and variety. I seriously doubt this; I think we are constrained by biology much more than that. And where biology does not constrain us chemistry and physics will.

I've never had a satisfactory answer when I press the question: so... what, exactly, will provide mass employment? What are these desires? And why won't they be fulfilled by machines?

At least, I've never had a satisfactory answer that doesn't imply a transition to an endpoint like ancient Egypt.


The consumer economy was started in the post WWII era and driven by the availability of credit. It meant you could buy expensive items like a house and fill it with stuff. The creation of credit for individuals expanded the economy and created more demand for products and services. The industrial revolution was the first major break in the subsistence level of living, even though the conditions for most people were ghastly from our perspective. But it did massively increase productivity, driving down the costs of goods.

The problem we are facing is the slow extraction of income from the bulk of the population and it's concentration in the top fractions of a percentile. In economies like the US and UK, the rising ability to borrow (at ever lower rates) offset the relatively stagnant wage growth.

IMO, what has to happen is a redistribution of income again. If it doesn't, the domestic economy will just remain in a funk for a long time. How that will happen is very unclear, certainly not by wheeling out madame guillotine again.

The bulk of the population has to find a way to recapture a large fraction of their productivity increases. And since productivity gains are primarily in industries that allow scale, that means that we need to manufacture products, not most services, and to be able to do that domestically. I really don't see how that this will be possible.

In theory, comparative advantage in trade should work, but it seems that it is breaking down due to the huge difference in wage levels. High bandwidth communication is going to make even local service work potentially outsourceable.

It really is a "winner takes all" global society.


Where are the jobs going to be?

So called "high touch" jobs. Anything that requires a human presence, where robots/surrogates are unacceptable. Unfortunately these will be encroached upon by those substitutes in due course. Even the sex-workers might be replaced by sexbots.

But maybe the problem is that we are thinking in industrial revolution terms. Jobs are something we do to productively gain an income to buy goods and services. What if those goods and services could be provided by machines that we use (own/rent/lease) on an individual/community basis? In a post scarcity world, maybe most basic needs can be met for very little effort, allowing trade in personal time or creativity.


I'm beginning to think that the monumental spanner in the works that you skip over will be something of a blessing rather than a curse.

Who the hell would want to live in such a world? It would be an individual's civic duty to smash the panopticon state in revolution and make it a criminal offence to infringe on the privacy of others. Rather than lifelogging everything, you are likely to create a situation where the crime is to record others - just for sanity's sake. Spying on a personal lifelog akin to rape.

As it is, the bit you skate over will make your future spectacularly unlikely. Middle class India, Asia and China with fission based electrical power, and presumably transport? The singularity is more likely.

Take a look back to Limits to Growth and ask yourself if such a massive growth in consumption is at all feasible. Hell, we are unlikely to avoid crash even with steady state numbers.

The scenario is built on sand.


A couple of thoughts about redistribution. One is that, as you implied Alex, it can happen quite suddenly, even without Mme. Guillotine.

Perhaps, though, we'll see the Warren Buffett Memorial Bridge and Tunnel Foundation, or the Mark Zuckerberg FatPipe Fund. In the US at least, I'd suggest that crumbling infrastructure is probably the best place for philanthropic people to spread a lot of money into local economies.

Another weird idea is that, if purely on-line investments get too chaotic, it's not a bad idea to start planting trees. There's such a dearth of high-quality wood that there's an active business in scavenging old boards. While I know there's an ugly history of investors buying timber companies and gutting them, there's also a need for renewable resources and too much money. As things are going, money might start flowing out into rebuilding the real world, just because there's no other place for it to go.


Thinking about mixing some of these ideas:

Birth rates are lower in more developed countries, in part because changed attitudes towards women let them choose to spend more time pursuing careers and less time raising children.

If we can't sustain a global workforce of four billion, and businesses will be limited by natural resources or by time (not all processes can be parallelised) and no longer by manpower, many people will necessarily be unemployed or part-time workers.

Assume that living standards will continue to increase, and that society will support those less-employed people so they're at least as well off as the fully-employed today.

Could the combination of factors trigger a resurgence in birth rates in developed countries? If most people don't have full-time jobs, they'll have plenty of time to look after children. If living conditions are adequate, they'll be able to financially afford children. Children provide some interest and fulfilment that would otherwise be missing in a life where you don't have much work to do, and some physical contact in a life where your friends are spread across the world and only reachable through a screen (albeit a very whizzy high-bandwidth 3D screen with access to every minute of their lives), so children would seem like a pretty good idea. Result: a new population bomb.


regarding the capacity of memory diamond: "6 x 10E23 – in 12.5 grams of carbon, or around 13 thousand terabytes in an ounce of memory diamond."

I think that you have underestimated the capacity by a factor of 10 Million or so. A thousand TBytes = 10E16 bits.


Rather than philanthropy, I could see infrastructure privatized. Roads, bridges, tunnels, dams, etc etc, all private and making some sort of profit. OTOH, New Scientist says we have seen "peak cars" and "peak car travel". So maybe this transport infrastructure is not going to be seriously replaced, rather like the decay of Roman roads.

I'm not sure of the employment value in tree planting - that is likely to be low farm wages.

Perhaps it might be the reverse, breaking up infrastructure for recyclable materials, a la KSR's "Pacific Edge". But who will pay for this - maybe a work for luxuries beyond the basics?


Could the combination of factors trigger a resurgence in birth rates in developed countries?

Probably not. High birth rates compensate for high death rates. With health care to reduce mortality, it makes more sense to keep families small and lavish more resources on fewer children.


Well spotted. There really is a LOT of room at the bottom.

[if 28 gm ~= 1 oz, then the 2.25 moles of C12 = 13E23 atoms = bits = 1.6E23 bytes.

~= 100,000 million terabytes]


Right now, privatized infrastructure (at least in my experience) has turned into massive boondoggles at every stage. The problem is that they're local monopolies or oligopolies, so they're generally more expensive to make and manage than is public infrastructure, and they don't do the job as well.

They also provoke small things like riots, at least when companies try to privatize drinking water and similar necessities.

My thought was that: a) some of the ultra-rich want to give away most of their fortunes. Well and good. b) the traditional venues for mega-philanthropy are big funds and buildings for education, medicine, and the arts. We certainly need arts support, but education and medicine right now are suffering from problems that will not be alleviated by monumental buildings, and as institutions, they are getting disturbingly good at wasting donations on administration.
c) There are huge, unmet needs at the infrastructural bottom, and I'd be delighted if some of the ultra-rich decided to work philanthropically on these problems and give the results away. They'd gain more from their charity than any profit they could suck out by turning public goods into monopolies.

It looks like Bill Gates is ahead of me. After I wrote that first post, I learned that his foundation is running a contest to reinvent the toilet for the developing world. We need that technology in the developed world, too, and possibly even more so.


The phenomenon of less developed countries having higher birth rates is mostly due to the lack of assurance that any child you have is going to make it to adulthood (mostly due to poor health conditions). If you want two children to look after you in your old age, you'd better have more than two, because the probability is that at least one of them is going to die before it gets to that point. Not to mention the advantage of more children when it comes to tending the family farmland.

But as countries develop, you can stop having as many children, because you're pretty sure that the health care system you've got will let all of them make it. And you might not be working in the farm industry anymore. So I'd expect to see an overall decrease in birth rates as the third world develops.

That does bring about the question of how you support the massive population of young people currently in the third world sixty or seventy years down the line when they're in their old age. The faster the third world modernizes (and, by extension, the faster the birth rate decreases), the more of a bulge you're going to get moving through the ranks. With the internet allowing development at a much higher pace than ever before, things could get very problematic down the road.


Since I am working in the eDiscovery industry for the time being ("Automatically sorting through millions of Lotus Notes archives so you don't have to!") the concept of lifeblogging makes for good business for us in the end. All data is discoverable, and if there is one block of data that begs for eDiscovery techniques it is a life-blog. So much irrelevant junk, but enough responsive data to bother. These days, video evidence is still mostly being manually processed by attorneys (or their clerks). When the corporate video-vaults start containing the lifeblogs (or worktime-blogs) of numerous employees automating that becomes a big deal.

And this is a good point to make. Once this data gets embroiled in an issue of some kind, it will be analyzed by multiple entities using somewhat divergent techniques. With lifeblog data, it'll be collected initially by the organization that's storing it just in case. Then when the issue hits, they'll go back through it to identify what data is relevant. This data is then submitted to council, and possibly other entities as well. Council will analyze it (this is where we come in), opposing council will analyze it, and possibly the opposing entity will analyze it.

That's a lot of data-chewing going on over the same dataset. As the UK CCTV system has shown, too much data and not enough analysis capacity doesn't increase the amount of responsive data much. But, who knows how good we'll be at video analysis in 50 years.


China's going to really lead the way on this one, I think, since they instituted the one-child policy back in the 70s.


Right now, privatized infrastructure (at least in my experience) has turned into massive boondoggles at every stage. The problem is that they're local monopolies or oligopolies, so they're generally more expensive to make and manage than is public infrastructure, and they don't do the job as well.

Perhaps. But they do mobilize capital and labor, and do it without being held hostage to local budgets. As governments become ever more fiscally strapped, this will be the mooted suggestion.

I'm skeptical of the amount of philanthropy funds that are available. Will it make much more than a dent in the employment of the nation? But it all helps.


"what we're all going to do if it turns out that the future can't deliver jobs".

The whole concept of the "job" is, I think, one that's probably heading for the trash heap over the next century.

Which is not to say that we'll all be unemployed or living in retirement-equivalent conditions, but that the whole idea of humans performing identical activities in set locations at fixed times of day for a consistent reward is very much a function of the eras of mass agriculture and mass manufacturing, and neither of those eras are coming back in our lifetimes[*].

[*] That is to say, for conditions to change such that they come back would require sufficiently unpleasant circumstances -- a collapse of the modern technosphere -- that most of us will probably die in the process.


One thing which I think lifelogging might just be very useful for is helping with mental health issues - particularly with regard to the diagnosis of same. If you're experiencing audio hallucinations, or visual hallucinations, this is going to show up fairly quickly when you run a compare and contrast of your lifelog with someone else's experience of being in the same place. It'll be easier to run a quick search on a lifelog for panic attacks, or episodes of anxiety and find out whether it's triggered. There'll be a greater ability to provide an accurate diagnosis of organic disorders.

It may also help to get a far more accurate picture of the true spread of mental health disorders, and getting a more accurate picture of the spread of diagnostic "normality" (my theory is that there are a lot less "normal" people than folks think there are... and that "sanity" is actually fairly abnormal - we're all crazy in our own little ways).

What this might imply for mental health maintenance and treatment regimes is less certain. Certainly, it offers a very powerful means for reality-checking for those of us who do have mental illnesses and who are amenable to getting such a checking mechanism. However, it can't do anything to make a person more amenable to getting the reality-check - and it can't make the person believe the external reality is different to their internal one. As Charlie said up the thread (in comment #46), corporate sociopaths are going to loathe it, and they're not going to be willing to accept any reality which isn't congruent with their own. Paranoiacs may either welcome the external reality check (if they want to keep their paranoia in check) or fear it with the strength of a thousand suns (if their paranoia is already out of hand). Narcissists won't accept anything which disputes their view of the world as revolving around themselves, and drama-llama types will micro-monitor their life-logs, looking for things to get upset about. The adjustment period for all these varying personality types (and we all have them in us to some degree or another) will be extremely painful.

I suspect that lifelogging might not actually do much directly about mental health issues - but it could be greatly beneficial in an indirect fashion. A lot of mental health work involves dealing with behavioural patterns, and working to alter these, and it could very well be that a culture accustomed to lifelogging would be better able to provide/follow-up on/enforce mental health treatment than our current one, where treatment is strongly based on self-reporting (and providers therefore have to ignore the number one problem, namely that humans can and do lie when it suits them).


Magiced @ 40 Well, yes, the "But you ORDERED me to do it!" is always a get-out, provided it isn't a "Nuremberg Defence", of course. Indeed, it is already a standard method for trashing a really idiot/arrogant "manager". I know of an example where one such got really pompous about how "Gatwick Express" (Trains from central London to one of the main airports) were sacrosanct, and nothing should delay them - at all. One of the signallers thought about this, and demanded a formal written instruction, and waited .... And, sure enough, one day, the GatEx was given priority over "1X01" (The signal-operating code for the Royal Train). After higher management and everyone else had stopped laughing, the idiot who issued said instruction was posted "elsewhere", and the signaller politely asked not to do it again ....

Charlie @ 45 Brit trains AND trams have both front-&-rear pointing video recorders. If you look at recent RAIB reports you will see that this technology is VERY useful in determining proximate causes of accidents.

TechSlave @ 53 Indeed. One can forsee a very strong push to have laws and restrictions loosened/ modified/cancelled/repealed, simply because EVERYONE will become a "criminal" ... and that way lies Stalin's USSR. It will take a long time, because of the "nothing to fear" bullshit, but, sooner or later, the peasants WILL revolt over that one, and rightly so. See also Beast @ 57 - who has also finally raised the unmentioned subject. Unversal surveillance ... erm ... What about: SEX then? Ooh-errr, missus!

ALex Tolley @ 72 Sorry, but wrong. "The consumer economy" started AT LEAST as early as pre-1851 (The Great Exhibition) It was an emergent effect of the various forms of industrialisation, starting back in the first Industrial Revolution in Britain during the 18th C.

Finally, Charlie "cheerfully predicted" at least one game-changer upsetting the whole applecart. My guesses are: The continuing price-drop of PV electrical generation plus the fabbing revolution (really taking off 2020-30) and an economic method of seriously storing large amounts of electrical power/energy. This last is a really nasty constraint, and why we are currently trapped by fossil-fuel use.


I dont know you, but I look around, at my coworkers, at my neighbourghs, at my fellow countrymen, then look inward, at myself, and the idea that we all are going to have to find creative jobs where our inner awesomeness would shine sounds like a recipe for existential disappointment multiplied by billions.

Most of us would feel even more of a failure that we do know. At least now I sometimes may be of use with my limited intellect, creativity and drive.


I'd agree that the concept of 20th Century concept of "job" is going to change radically. However, I find myself more concerned about the possibility that the 21st Century technosphere may only create a decreasing number of jobs.

Taking agriculture as an example, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and energy constraints are pushing us away from high labour subsistence farming to high capital, high efficiency industrial farming. That's all well and good, but reduces the number of jobs in farming by a factor of a ten to a hundred. The same applies to manufacturing, energy, and transport jobs. Hell, it applies to every form of employment that doesn't require a masters degree. That's a problem.


See a short story called "Lobsters," and the Arianespace employee with due diligence earrings, and the IRS agent with a chaperone badge. You'll probably find a link to it somewhere on this site, for some reason...


I semi-agree. Whilst jobs in an individual field are lessened the innovations that cause this can create jobs elsewhere. Taking your example industrial farming requires people to mine and refine the materials, run the factories, maintain the machines, work out the transport logistics, administration, legal etc etc.

The problem here is that if you are average Joe farm boy then you don't have the qualifications to swap jobs so easily. That's the biggest problem in my opinion, the speed and ease at which people can retrain when their job is made obsolete.


That's basically how Roman era local government worked. The wealthiest citizens were expected to pay for big ticket municipal items, in return for the honor of being the equivalent of Mayor/City Councilman. Generally, it was an honor you couldn't refuse.


The basic idea behind lifelogging is simple enough: wear a couple of small, unobtrusive camera chips and microphones at all time. Stream their output, along with metadata such as GPS coordinates and a time sequence to a server somewhere. Working offline, the server performs speech-to-text on all the dialogue you utter or hear, face recognition on everyone you see, OCR on everything you read, and indexes it against images and location. Whether it’s performed in the cloud or in your smartphone is irrelenvant – the resulting search technology essentially gives you a prosthetic memory.

Ala Castaneda's Tales of Power, the perfect tech recapitulation gift to the eagle for immortality.


Same for the greeks - from memory it went something along the lines of if you were rich, you had to pay for a naval vessel or the army equivalent. You could easily get out of doing so, all you had to do was find someone richer, and make them do it.

The costs trickled down until they had all the funding they needed for that year. Next year, the relative positions of everyone would be different, so they'd start again.

Bubblesort with people as it were :)


Is something like "post-privacy" (an actual German sub-movement in internet politics ... speakting about things like "kontrollverlust" (losing control about your life) as something that is going to happen/is happening, thus changing the way data security / privacy works) relevant for this context?


In practice. State access in Europe is pretty easy too. But, from my own experience, I know that US companies are alarmingly casual about privacy. Facebook are not the only people to have spewed personal info onto the Web with shockingly lax default privacy settings.

My current Biographic info on one system I have to use is now "Biography: Restricted No-Forn"

The change that was spewing out data didn't get announced to customers until three weeks after it happened. One doesn't track the company website for news. You don't have to be paranoid to use the product, but that level of suspicion seems quite rational.


Meg @ 87: Unfortunately, lifelogging is going to be a nightmare for those suffering from social anxiety.

Charlie @ 45: The truckers are also a good example of how people would respond to mandatory lifelogging by their employers. My previous employer was developing maintenance diagnostic and logging systems, and we partnered with a company to put DAQ systems in their trucks to get more information on diesel engines in real-world conditions. Unfortunately, no one bothered to inform the drivers what the new black boxes were sitting in their cabs were and they assumed it was driver monitoring equipment installed by their management. Cue a lot of 'accidents' for some expensive DAQ hardware.


If there was a way I could get some return on my creativity, maybe I wouldn't want what we currently call a job. And somebody else could do it. Most of the "I could do better than that" stuff which I see is either old, maybe 1960s, or later works by an established writer.

The thing to get away from is the idea that everyone has to have a "job". And that probably needs a major replacing of a lot of laws and bureaucratic regulations based on whether or not somebody has, or is looking for, a job.

Four, some sort of vastly improved, variable, Statute of Limitations will be necessary. Many things that were normal in the past are now “Crimes Against Humanity!”

The current justification for statute of limitations is that you can't be expected to defend yourself for an event a long time ago: "where were you on the night of 23 November 1991?". Can you remember? could you get an alibi? with lifelogging you would expect the statute of limitations to be rescinded, not extended ...


Another trucker example, from the early days of the tachograph.

A local guy was doing a lot of haulage into, or through, Gainsborough, and this was before the current bypass had been built. (The grain mill still seems to be there, owned by a different company.)

His boss noticed a blip on the disc, a stop always a bit before the town-centre driving through Gainsborough, on the first run of the day.

It was a stop at a corner shop for a newspaper.


I'm one of those people who assume no privacy. I always post under my own name on the Net. The only information that I consider secret refers to other people, and I always assume that anything I say on the phone or in email might be read by various security services. Hiding stuff in plain sight saves a lot of trouble.


I'm sorry, we're still living in an era of mass agriculture. It's just that it's hidden away where we can't see it, unless we do things like drive up Hwy 101 or I-5.

A related point: About industrial agriculture being better than small scale agriculture. It ain't. An accessible documentary is Food Inc.. It's just saying what an increasing number of us have known for years.

Here are the points: 1. Small family farms are on average more resource efficient, more productive, and would produce cheaper food in the US, except for a subsidy system that supports massive operations (see the federal farm bills that come up every few years). 2. While industrial ag is efficient at producing cheap food under current subsidies, it is a brittle system (failures tend to propagate nationwide), and depends both on massive inputs of cheap energy, cheap, uncomplaining labor (illegal immigrants or migrant workers), favorable laws, and on a continuing stream of technical fixes for the problems in a system optimized on only for mass production. 3. Big agriculture is ecologically unsustainable in a number of ways. It strip-mines farm soils of nutrients and carbon (carbon is lost to the air, nutrients are replaced at high cost), it depends on inputs of pesticides and antibiotics, massive amounts of cheap energy to run the machines and transport products, has massive waste disposal issues (animal manure at those levels is a toxic waste, more than plant fertilizer), and so forth. Back in the 80s, I was told that it required 16 calories in for every calorie out, and it's probably still close to that. Industrial organic farming is a bit better, but not perfect.

This is where the locavore movement comes from. The point isn't snobbery or elitism, it's an attempt to support local, sustainable farms, simply because it's blindingly obvious that we need them, and that we need more of them.

Fortunately or unfortunately, more people need to get involved in growing food, at least in a garden. Yes, it's hard work, I know, but if you don't have a job either, why not? Do it right, you may even get a respectable amount of carbon back into the ground through your efforts.

And if you believe Richard Louv's work on "nature deficit disorder" getting outside to garden is a cheap way to get healthier, too.


"The consumer economy" started AT LEAST as early as pre-1851 (The Great Exhibition) It was an emergent effect of the various forms of industrialisation

Perhaps you would care to offer your definition of "consumer economy" and then provide some evidence why your pre-1851 dating accords with it. You might even get to rewrite a piece of the textbook. ;)


Farming in the developed world already occupies just a tiny fraction (<2%) of the workforce. Most people my age in California can either recall living on a farm, visiting the family farm on vacation. Change was very rapid.

The US is still a highly industrialized country. But service businesses abound. We are not going to replace manicurists, hairdressers, gardeners, and even writers anytime soon. But a lot of current symbolic pushing workers might well disappear, as did their forerunners in the factories.


must not use angle brackets

...less than 2% of the working population.


I'm sorry, we're still living in an era of mass agriculture. It's just that it's hidden away where we can't see it, unless we do things like drive up Hwy 101 or I-5.

There's seem to be a confusion of terminology here - between the Big Agriculture you're referring to, and mass agriculture in the sense that that's what the masses work in.


Lifelogging need not merely be something for humans. You can already buy a collar-mounted camera for your pet dog or cat; I think it’s pretty likely that we’re going to end up instrumenting farm animals as well,

This is already happening. See this about monitoring dairy cattle.


Yes, I deliberately confused the terms. People have this dichotomy of either a) everyone is looking after a tiny family farm or a serf on a noble's estate, or b) there are a few highly mechanized farmers, and everyone else is in the cities. Reality is more complex. There are a lot of people involved in farming. Yes, there are fewer than 100 years ago, but much of their labor has been replaced by migrants who (oddly enough) don't show up on census records all that often. Additionally, some of what used to be factory jobs (livestock care, butchering, food processing) may now show up as factory jobs.

Note that I'm not at all in favor of forced movement back to the countryside, in the model of the Cultural Revolution or the Khmer Rouge atrocities. What I'm pointing out is that sustainable farming involves more people working smaller plots of land. The reason is that each piece of land is different. While there are some great technical fixes out there (satellite guided fertilizer spraying, for example), in general, someone who knows their 100 acres well spends their time managing it will get a better yield out of it than will someone who owns 100,000 acres, and who manages those 100 acres as part of a bigger system.

Moreover, Industrial Agriculture 1.0 (the current version) is crappy at inter-cropping, polyculture, building up soil structure and fertility, sequestering carbon, and other management practices that are demonstrably productive and sustainable. Call these practices Sustainable Ag 1.0. Perhaps in the future we'll be able to increase the scale on sustainable agriculture. For the present, we need small farmers for this to work.


Alex: see the line right above the text input box. To enter certain characters:

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There's a whole lot less labour involved in agriculture today than a century ago, at least as practiced here in the UK, if I understand correctly; around 1-2% of the population rather than 20%, much less the 70-80% engaged in farming during the mediaeval period.

(I suspect Dave Bell can offer a more informed opinion ...)


Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash had people running around in suits that recorded everything...

But in the interest of looking at "where we are now" vs. "where we might end up"...


i have a heavy problem with including "telepathy" in the "cannot predict consequences of" category with aliens, time travel, singularity, etc.

telepathy is just unvocalized communication to a person. to a better and better degree with each iteration, natch. but not out of the realm of current-day understanding. i know you've taken a while to research and write this awesome article and publish it, but just the other day someone unveiled new kinds of brain sensors that can be applied like temporary tattoos. it's late 2011 and all the same late 1961 transitions are already taking place in our new arenas. i've always advocated that when/if even a recreational "matrix" comes, it will be wireless. :)


The problem with your analysis of "democratic" government, Charlie, is that you have wrongly assumed that the problems we are currently experiencing are inherent in the system itself.

On the contrary: the system worked pretty well for a majority of its 200+ years of existence, and has every chance of working well again if we can only get rid of the corruption, and see that our "representatives" again start playing by the real rules, rather than the ad-hoc rules they made up themselves as they went along.


I'd even go so far as to say that worse has already happened in the US Congress already. Somehow we've survived it.

I have to agree with Charlie, though. Recalls are better than hanging for most Congresscritters, mostly because they're a more drawn out punishment, and somewhat cheaper and less bloody for their supporters.


telepathy is just unvocalized communication to a person...

For that definition, we're almost there by the standards that most of the 20th century would recognize. People stick a small plastic thing in one ear, poke at their celphone a bit, then walk down the street talking to their invisible friends (mostly not wandering into traffic).

We know what a society with telepathic communication looks like. The only difference that a nonverbal input system would make would be that random strangers wouldn't be overhearing half of the conversation.


In reply to several points.

You don't make life-blogging mandatory as that raises a generation where rebellion is defined as "not blogging". You introduce ever more fashionable optional blogging tools and raise a generation actively against or genuinely not comprehending the personal privacy that their parents practised. A generation after that not recording everything (publicly?) becomes perversion.

Makes me wonder whether the assumption of privacy (people in control of their own lifeblogs) in many of the posts might be in error in favour of (or in addition too) more global pooled data from multiple perspectives?

Other people being monitored at work include Washington DC bus drivers whose new cameras film them constantly but only write from the buffer for 8 seconds before, during and four seconds after specified trigger events (swerving, breaking hard, crashing etc)

Does ubiquitous surveillance on lifeblogging levels finally break the nudity taboo? Or any other bodily function/privacy for that matter?


Interesting lecture, but I think it may be a little optimistic. For starters...

This, incidentally, leads me to another prediction: something outwardly resembling democracy everywhere...

I think you've failed to (fully) address several major disadvantages of democratic forms of government.

One... Here in the States, both major parties are deep in the pockets of moneyed interests. Witness for instance the Obama administration's stance on software patents, or the Bush administration's sponsorship of corn ethanol. Politicians do what will get them elected again, which usually translates to appeasing rich, powerful sociopaths who can never get enough.

This can be prevented, I think. But the problem is that it's already happened here, and will probably happen elsewhere. I doubt such corruption will prove easy to clean up.

Two... Much of the population is ignorant enough to consistently vote for or support completely nutty, oppressive things. See California's Proposition 8 for instance. Not only will some people vote against their own interests, they will vote specifically against others' interests out of bigotry.

Ideally the courts would put a halt to some of this; but presidents can stuff the courts with partisan morons, allowing all kinds of bad shit to happen.

Three... Politicians aren't held accountable for their actions in practice. The Bush administration was complicit in outright war crimes, and not one of their number is in prison for it. There are probably a number of factors behind this - Democratic politicians trying to appease the Republicans, the CIA making things difficult [1], and most of the public not giving a damn.

I don't know about parliamentary systems, but I think that presidential democracies like the US may be intrinsically unstable in the long term. Things get stagnant; the government stops acting for the people and starts acting for itself. I don't see the US sliding into dictatorship any time soon, but it looks like it's well on its way to the stagnant state; and I suspect other democracies using the presidential system might head the same way. I only hope that parliamentary democracies fair better.

But I guess this is all old news. "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for everything else," etc. etc.

[1] BTW, just a side note - do some searching on the CIA's destruction of interrogation tapes. And then take a look at some stuff on MKULTRA and MKSEARCH back in the 70s. The CIA has been pretty consistent in its human rights violations, and everyone else in the government has been pretty consistent in failing to take them to task for it. Get the impression they might be scared of something?


what drove various economies before that

In older economic textbooks you will find generous usage of the word "household".

Looking at the generation of my grandparents, that was the motive of their life: having kids, bringing them up, making sure they're equipped with what they need to continue the family lineage and watch how they're doing with their kids.

A piano for example was nice to have in the house, an investment in the education of the kids and a high quality grand piano could even become a family heritage with some kind of glamour. (Well, the grand piano was lost to the Royal Air Force, a small price for getting the murderous bum kicked out, thanks again for that anyway...)

To understand what happened next and created consumerism, you only have to watch the Coens' "A Serious Man". An old-fashioned, well-intentioned family patriarch is stranded like a dying dinosaur in a weird new world.

What comes next?

I really would like to know...

But it seems that life design ("the story of your life") and curating an awe-inspiring circle of friends are very important parts of it. That seems to make significance the real high value-added luxury...

And reconnecting to lifelogging: That's the ultimate proof of your success - the best parties, the craziest drug trips, interspaced with true intimacy, shining insights and creative bursts.

How would you call the equivalent of a cosmetic surgeon for lifelogs anyway?


I love the idea of lifeblogging as a natural extension of personal annual reports by the likes of Nicholas Felton.

It also reminds me of a plot device in Hominids, where a similar "always on" recording device is used in a crime investigation in a parallel universe where Neanderthals rose to power instead of humans. Its a cross species/universe love story. Kind of weird, but had some interesting ideas.

I really enjoyed the lecture. Thanks!


See Chip Delany's "Trouble on Triton". He describes a panopticon system of video cameras and recorders which, after being installed and found useless for governmental purposes in a place where almost nothing is illegal, get turned into a vanity video service. For a fee you can get some number of seconds of video of yourself, and within a short period of time this pays for the installation of the system.

However, there's also the question of creating increasing numbers of jobs within those constraints, at a rate that at least matches the population growth rate.

The answer is obvious: the panopticon created by lifelogging requires large amounts of computation to find relevant information in the sea of zettabytes. Instead of building bigger and bigger computer systems to search the lifelogs, large numbers of otherwise unemployable citizens could be recruited to work in automatic turks, spending their days scanning for criminal acts and potential acts of terrorism. If the STASI were able to use half the population of East Germany (part-time) to spy on the other half, then with sufficient technological overkill a panopticon ought to be able to employ 90% of the population to spy on 100% of it.


...with sufficient technological overkill a panopticon ought to be able to employ 90% of the population to spy on 100% of it...

Now that is what I call a service job for the C21st! Piece work from home at your own pace, low wages, paid by the ruling class. Make it into a game! A spectator sport of the very adept.


In the last 50 years British wheat farming has changed from 17 men per thousand acres to about one.

The machinery is hugely expensive. On Top Gear, back in February, they converted a Claas Dominator 108 to a snow plough. That model is over ten years old, and is still valued at around £44,000 It's hard to find new prices, but a 2 year old Claas Tucano is being advertised for £101,000

The VAT will be added (and can be reclaimed by the farmer since food is zero-rated in the UK)

And that's a small combine harvester.


So far the discussion in this thread has concentrated on the security of access to private information, especially the information generated by lifelogging (with a few sidelights on access to personal genetic information). I think the issues around access to control of personal systems are even nastier; Charlie mentioned them briefly, but didn't go into any real detail.

So let's think about a future in which medical treatment is largely performed by sending commands to implants or nanotech machines residing permanently (or at least for long periods of time) inside the patient's body. We've seen the beginnings of this technology already: heart pacemakers and implanted insulin pumps with wireless channels for monitoring and control. And there are already security experts worrying about outsiders hacking such devices.

Once we understand how the metagenomic functions of DNA work, how epigenetic phenomena are controlled, the potential for treatment of disorders by controlling the genetic control systems arises. If that's done using implanted systems with external command streams, think about the damage the equivalent of STUXNET could do, whether in an act of vandalism or an act of war. One truly nasty tactic for warfare would be to turn off the appetites of some large fraction of the target population, and let them starve to death.

Also note that the endocrine, immune, and nervous systems are intertangled in ways we don't yet fully understand. Once we do understand them, I would be surprised if clever hackers don't figure out ways to influence the emotions and thought processes of people who have programmable medical systems. One possibility is that there might be a way to stimulate the "transcendental state" of the nervous system that causes religious experiences. Do that to large crowds of people while they're at a political rally or watching a video of a televangelist and you've got a powerful recruiting tool.


I think we can already do that crudely, and bio warfare could become much more sophisticated with a more complete understanding of cell processes, in parallel with medical applications. I tend to see medical implants as an interim technology before we move to programmed/engineered biological components.

For a good horror story on this theme - Greg Bear's "Vitals".


Complete understanding, in this regard, is about on the level of the people who happily predicted complete understanding of ecosystems back in the 1960s.

Here's one problem: a majority of the cells in your body aren't genetically human.

Here's another problem: these cells evolve fast. In one experiment that I've heard about, an enterprising researcher cultured the bacteria on his used toilet paper for a few weeks. What he found was that the E. coli in his stomach mutated on the rate of weeks/months, and community composition in his gut changed substantially over that time.

While I am convinced that people will create apps to run their implants (because such things already exist, at least as prototypes), I'm not at all convinced that most people will successfully wire themselves up to the degree described. For many, their bodies will change faster than their implants can cope.

That also leaves out Murphy's Law, which I think most people respect in their personal electronics. Right now, for example, we could go cyberpunk and install a phone in our heads, with a keyboard on the wrist, but no one's interested in doing so. Why should they? They get a new phone every year, and plugging yourself into the wall for hours every week kinda sucks.


What he found was that the E. coli in his stomach mutated on the rate of weeks/months, and community composition in his gut changed substantially over that time.

That's interesting. How does this fit with the idea of finite, distinct gut ecosystems?


Alastair McKinstry 100, you are mostly correct about current law. However I'm talking about things that were not crimes when committed, thus not relevant to the current version of statute of limitations. Except when the crime is Retroactively deemed so horrible that It Must Be Prosecuted. For example, it used to be pretty normal to spank a child. Now it treated like Misdemeanor Assault or Child Abuse. Give it a few years and Nanny States might elevate it to, oh, Assault With Intent To Degrade A Minor's Self Image and make it equivalent to Murder One with no statute of limitations. Then along comes some prosecutor who wants a bunch of convictions and...

A more realistic example is actual War Crimes. Many things get and got done in war that were and are being retroactively deemed to be War Crimes. There is no statute of limitations on these. This is an existing time bomb. The US has already threatened to withdraw from NATO over this.

Now extend this idea a bit. So many of the things we did in the past are now Evil! Smoking, especially in the presence of minors, allowing a minor to ride a bike without proper safety equipment, allowing minors to use fireworks, etc, etc, etc. It really is quite possible that some or all of us, have done things that will be deemed to be Utterly Horrible in the future. And if we are silly enough to provide proof...

There are the other reasons for the statute of limitations. It usually is not to the state's advantage to spend time and money to prosecute minor crimes committed many years ago. Who really gives a bleep if you committed Jay Walking twenty years ago?

Of course there are things in the middle. An example might be many thefts committed thirty years before the individual became a model citizen.

Then there will be the things that probably should go before a judge. Say somebody committed a minor crime covered by the statute but examination of a lifelog shows this crime caused something horrible. Say some copper wire got stolen. This caused a toxic spill that eventually, many years later, blinded a thousand people. It's not murder so today's statute applies. Still, it's Very, Very Ugly and we have Proof! Now What?


JFYI, lots of this territory was covered in the David Brin non-fiction book everyone remembers but no one could name: "The Transparent Society". He did it as a novel, too, but I don't recall the title.


Corrupt Political Systems

I'm talking about the USA here but I suspect it is similar in other places.

If you really think our democracy is a disaster now, you should go study some history. Not the stuff you get in the 5th or 9th grade. I mean read up on how the game was really played prior to the 1970s. It was hard ball baseball. No gloves or helmets allowed. Think in terms of the first Rollerball movie.

Rarely do Congressmen get regular bags of cash handed to them. Or whatever. If you look at the rise of LBJ, he became a multi-millionaire through sweetheart deals. Just how did he become the owner of that TV station on a Congressional salary? And how come no other stations in the area were granted licenses until he died or just before.

Look at the JFK election. Illinois was a rigged state. The word is that Nixon told his supporters in the southern part of the state to report the results when they had them instead of trying to hold out and force Chicago to report. He figured Daley would never let him win the state now matter how he played the game.

When have we last seen someone like the head of tax writing in our Congress running about drunk in public with strippers?,9171,911535,00.html

And I see a lot of Murdoc bashing around here. And he likely deserves it. But his standards of reporting would have been the gold standard if he had existed in the first few decades of our fair republic.

IMNERHO things are a real mess. But they are an nearly infinitely better mess than they have ever been.

As to why we feel things are so fouled up compared to what previous generations felt? I personally think it is the media. TV blew open the wink wink nod nod that radio and print gave to politicians prior to the 60s.


One quick thought on lifelogging:

Comparing your thoughts on current phone to past phone (current = linking humans, past = linking buildings) and video recordings current and speculative future, I would similarly propose that, current = recording buildings, future = recording humans.

We would then be discussing personal CCTV systems... iCCTV, if you will.

If memory serves, we are talking about three cameras to store roundly 12 months would be close to three or so terabytes.

The interesting thing about CCTV systems is that they are programed to record three to seven frames per second on average. When an event occurs it kicks up to 12 or more fps and can actually backtrack and record at a higher fps for a predetermined amount of time prior to the event (15, 30 seconds) allowing for a capture of the timeline leading up to the event.

An event equals any predetermined item that the CCTV system can currently track. The primary would be motion activated (or pixel deviation). At casinos and other high security areas it could include facial recognition.

I can easily see this translating over to lifelogging. Walking down the street = 3fps, meeting a friend during the walk activates a higher fps.

One year of an iCCTV system might equal 2TB up to 4TB for a high level of recording.


telepathy is just unvocalized communication to a person. to a better and better degree with each iteration, natch. but not out of the realm of current-day understanding.

Science Fiction telepathy is usually more than that - it's the ability to read someone's mind, often against their knowledge or will. That would be a severe problem for security.

It's also probably unlikely in the form envisioned. It would appear that each person's brain wiring is different, with learnt concepts very likely so contingent on experience that precise results from an EEG on one person would be impossible to map to another. Where in my brain is stored the taste a lemon meringue, you might have your first kiss. Experiments have been done to pin down specific concepts for specific people, but it does appear that you'd need extensive per-person training of the interfaces.

And it's probably rather pointless in the end, since what you are alluding to — instant person-to-person as opposed to place-to-place communication — is indeed already here, and as you indicate, better interfaces to permit that are likely to happen.


You seem to be a little confused over the difference between a long-past crime, and the law changing to make something a crime now.

One of the possible terms is "Ex Post Facto laws". They're apparently constitutionally prohibited in the USA.

It's also against all the international human rights agreements. War Crimes are an instance of Universal Jurisdiction, which complicates that and also seem to be mala in se.

In common law countries, at least, something that's mala in se doesn't need to be defined by statute, though the penalty might be, and a later statute will supersede any common law definition. So, while homosexual acts might be regarded as mala in se, the Buggery Act 1533 moved it from ecclesiastical courts to the civil system. Curiously, the statute doesn't give a particular definition: that was left to the courts, as with other sodomy laws. Subsequent statutes have had to be more specific, as some unnatural acts have been legalised.


" some unnatural acts have been legalised.

Like riding a bicycle? Flying? Not being a hunter-gatherer, and using agriculture?

Please be more specific!


Travelling by train? ;-) After all, everyone knows that "should a man travel at 35mph, his lungs be crushed by hte speed of wind, and he hence be asphyxiated".

You're right; that could be clearer!


@118 ... There are a lot of politicians that, imho, need to spend some time behind bars. By your standards, apparently, every "police action" taken under the War Powers act would be enough to warrant the arrest of every past and present POTUS for "war crimes". By not having Congress declare "war" there is a lot of slop.

Get over your Bush fixation.


I guess it depends on your definition of finite.

Your gut ecosystem does change substantially, depending on things like what you last ate. One easy example is eating a couple of commercial hamburgers after a week of organic salads. The chemistry is different on the burgers, the stoichiometry is different (much more nitrogen in the meat, for example), and that ignores all the issues of commerically prepared burgers with regards to antibiotics, pollutants, and foreign E. coli. Not that I'm saying that plants are bacteria free either. There are also interactions between your intestinal cell walls and the bacteria in your gut, so the changes radiate outwards.

The basic point is that your gut is pretty dynamic. Monitoring it would be complex, possibly a bit obnoxious (you might have to swallow a horse pill-sized genomic analyzer every 6 to 12 hours, as the last one got crapped out) or dangerous (if you wanted to embed technology in your intestinal wall). Even then you would get an ecosystem sample, not total gut contents.

Of course, there are all sorts of things you can do to tend your gut, ranging from swallowing large cultures of bacteria that are personally beneficial to you (as opposed to current probiotics, which are pretty primitive), to monitoring stool samples for signs of dangerous pathogens (early versions already exist on high-end Japanese toilets), or introducing suites of gut bacteria to help you lose or gain weight or that let you go to another country and not deal with traveler's diarrhea.

I suspect most of these therapies will involve ordering cultures from a local bacterial culture house, rather than programming an app on your personal computer. We'll see. If you think about gardening your intestines at a microbial level, there are all sorts of possibilities.


Aside from police, what other professions are being monitored and recorded routinely as of now?

Depending on the location: nannies, day care workers, and teachers.

I've heard that at least one group of teachers in England is asking for classroom cameras, to protect themselves against false accusations of abuse from the kids.

The basic point is that your gut is pretty dynamic. Monitoring it would be complex, possibly a bit obnoxious (you might have to swallow a horse pill-sized genomic analyzer every 6 to 12 hours, as the last one got crapped out) or dangerous (if you wanted to embed technology in your intestinal wall). Even then you would get an ecosystem sample, not total gut contents.

Could you modify the bacteria so they would be easier to identify? Hmmm . . . each distinct species is coded with a unique tag of florescent compounds which can be pinged with lidar. Have your little probes roam around your gut and report back on the local color as a series of RGB triplets. Then it's trivial to back-solve for the local population numbers.


It looks fine right above this.


The county around my city is a far suburb to DC and it now has almost no farms. Many just couldn't make enough money and were sold to developers.

One... Here in the States, both major parties are deep in the pockets of moneyed interests. Witness for instance the Obama administration's stance on software patents, or the Bush administration's sponsorship of corn ethanol. Politicians do what will get them elected again, which usually translates to appeasing rich, powerful sociopaths who can never get enough.
This can be prevented, I think. But the problem is that it's already happened here, and will probably happen elsewhere. I doubt such corruption will prove easy to clean up.

I don't mean to spoil any of your illusions, but what you see now is mostly just politics as usual, cf the patronage system of Tamany Hall or the boom and bust cycles caused by greedy speculators. Let's see what the wiki has to say about financial crises of the 19th and 20th centuries: in the U.S. alone, we have the so-called "panics" of 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1884, 1893, 1895, 1901, 1907 . . . you get the picture.

You see this same phenomenon operating in other reportage of the Civilization is Going to Hell type, btw. Remember when missing kids seemed to take a sudden uptick sometime in the 70/80's? As I understand it, stats show that the rate of child abductions didn't really change. But the amount of coverage they received as newsworthy phenomena did, which gave the general public that impression.

Otoh, beady-eyed scrutiny of our polls does seem to have put a damper on the more obvious corruption. Gone are the days (mostly) when our various ruling elites would take their payoffs as sack-fulls of cash. They still get kickbacks of the less obvious, less known sort of course. But that's just the point; our polls will behave just has badly an unaware and uninformed public will allow them to.

That's the whole point and purpose of Sunshine laws in fact.

It also reminds me of a plot device in Hominids, where a similar "always on" recording device is used in a crime investigation in a parallel universe where Neanderthals rose to power instead of humans.

This sort of data might also revolutionize the way science like sociology or economics is done. Why, you might even be able to partially mathematize them ;-)


I think it's possible to monitor fluorescent tags. The issue is what you're tagging, and what's in there that's not tagged.

For example, french kisses and other romantic activities are great ways to exchange gut bacteria, and every time you eat some yogurt or raw food, microorganisms are getting into your body. Similarly, antibiotics (or a radical change in diet) will purge your existing gut ecosystem, at which point you'll get new bacteria from your environment.

Additionally, if you put the fluorescent code on a plasmid, that little plasmid will get exchanged among different strains of bacteria, so it won't necessarily flag the strain you originally labeled. Additionally, the strains will evolve over weeks in your gut (in part through plasmid exchange, in part through simple Darwinian dynamics), so over time, you'll have less and less idea of what it is you're tracking.

So it's not a simple. I think fluorescent monitoring would be great for some short-term focused applications, but not as a general monitoring solution.


That's interesting. How does this fit with the idea of finite, distinct gut ecosystems?

Point to note, Alex, is that bacteria reproduce fast. The typical life cycle time for prokaryotes in a nutrient-rich and warm (but not too warm) environment is around 30-60 minutes. Given that it takes your food 8-12 hours to make its way from mouth to anus, of which at most only the first hour is going to be spent in the stomach, that means 7-11 hours in the intestines, time for between 7 and 22 generations (doubling times). If a particular meal favours a certain species, that species can bloom substantially in just a few hours. However, we're carrying 200-300 more more different species in there. So establishing just which ones will bloom and which will crash due to a transient change of diet is, shall we say, difficult.

A week is eternity -- time for 300 generations of gut flora and fauna.


finite in this case being 3 population clusters.

Obviously the compositions of the clusters vary, but it is interesting that despite changes in composition and even possibly in genes, the researchers can claim there are only 3 basic types.


“You seem to be a little confused over the difference between a long-past crime, and the law changing to make something a crime now.”

No, I’m just not making myself clear. I’ll try to say it better. The definition, the perception, of a crime often changes with time. Then, if under the new definition, if the crime is sufficiently Vile, Evil, and /or Horrible enough, “Something Will Be Done!” The Something doesn’t actually have to involve an Ex Post Facto law. But the perpetrator will NOT like the results, not at all.

You gave one good example of a crime becoming less vile. That is same act, but different public perception.

Rape is another example where the definitions have changed. Back in “The Good Old Days,” for it to be rape, the victim had to fight, kick, scream, bite, etc. If she gave in and let it happen, it was just ordinary sex. They wrote jokes about this. I’ve even saved a few. Now, if the girl whispers no at any point, possibly even days later, it’s rape. Well, in the US anyway. In other places it can get really weird. Under lifelogging, the video of both sides of Everything, is going to be around for life.

We keep getting examples of what I’m trying to say in American Politics. When somebody runs for office, the press and everybody else goes looking for dirt. Very often they find some. Mostly this “dirt,” is actual, nasty, possibly criminal acts. But sometimes the person has done something actually pretty ordinary at the time, but is now viewed as nasty. This sort of thing has kept many good people out of public office and caused others to resign abruptly. Now, all it’s going to take is a court order and Everything you ever did or said is going before The Court of Public Opinion.

Cardinal Richelieu “If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him”

Under lifelogging, were talking about everything you’ve ever done or said. Even back when you were a silly adolescent. You want to have all this around to hand to the good Cardinal or The Court of Public Opinion?

Now add the effects of seeing the video. For lots of people, if there’s no video, it didn’t happen. Only we’re talking about collecting Everything, in HD, color, and probably 3D, from many cameras. Even now, lots and lots of embarrassing and potentially incriminating video is being collected. Thousands of hours of it is uploaded to YouTube every day. Think of how this is going to affect these people’s lives twenty or fifty years from now.

What was a “harmless” prank gone wrong might become a reason to refuse marriage, employment, or, in extreme cases, imprisonment. One minor mistake in your past might haunt you for life. Haunt you in 3D HD color. Perhaps now you see why I’m saying we’re going to need some kind of Forgiveness Mechanism Super Statute of Limitations, Public Amnesia, something that will, Usually, make this inadmissible, and not available, even under court order. We will probably need this even if lifelogging doesn’t take off. There will a huge digital trail behind every person, thing and event on the planet.


The way you "mathematize" the social sciences is not via some form of psychohistory, but the way the US military/DARPA is doing it - by modeling the real world down to citizen level in a gigantic simulation.


On the subject of crimes that weren't, at the time but now have ramifications, consider the UK Sun newspaper in the early 80s when 16 year old Sam Fox made her topless debut. If you still have a copy of that newspaper you can now be prosecuted for possession of kiddie porn and put on the sex offenders register thanks to changes in the law in the 90s.


Sorry if I'm duplicating any points -- quite a lot of replies!

Some off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts on lifelogging:

Well, first of all, there's the question of what convenient access to prosthetic memory will do to our biological memory; there's the oft-repeated point that people remember fewer facts now that they have Google. I can tell you what my dad's phone number was 20 years ago but I can't tell you what it is today; it's "Dad" in my cell phone.

And while having an objective log of exactly what REALLY happened could be useful in law-enforcement situations, it's not much help in interpersonal relationships. In any given argument with a spouse, a friend, or a coworker, would it be likelier that a transcript proving who was objectively right would throw water on the flames -- or fan them? I'd guess the latter, at least for the first generation, though people growing up with the tech could easily develop entirely different attitudes on the subject.

And then I wonder about pruning -- most users would leave everything on default settings, which might mean keeping everything forever. But there's always bound to be a group that's more fastidious in deleting old stuff they don't need -- if I could delete my dad's old phone number from long-term storage I would, let alone the hundreds of commercial jingles lodged in there. (And, per point number one, I wonder if those commercial jingles would stick in my brain in the first place if I were used to accessing memories externally?)

Interesting things to think about, but of course the answers are anybody's guess.


You are correct ...

I have a friend who briefly considered some shit-stirring involving tabloids, allegations of kiddie porn, and the National Library of Scotland; in the end he decided that it'd be a bad idea to vandalize a library collection just to make a point, but there must be copies of those issues of the Sun in certain newspaper morgues in Wapping ...


There are a bunch of major medical obstacles to smash flat before that becomes possible, but we’re living through the early days of a revolution in genomics and biology – one made possible by massively parallel number-crunching and networking – and we’re beginning to work out just how complex our intracellular machinery is.

Oddly enough it looks like some of those obstacles are falling as we speak. In a recent article in the Public Library of Science (, research is reported that looks like the first step towards broad-spectrum antiviral agents. They are calling it "Double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) Activated Caspase Oligomerizer (DRACO) that selectively induces apoptosis in cells containing viral dsRNA, rapidly killing infected cells without harming uninfected cells." Which was about the coolest thing I saw this week, present blog entry excepted of course :)


That idea had crossed my mind as well. I think the point ought to be made.


Another aspect of all this, anybody remember The Wide World of Sports and the Agony of Defeat?

This guy is the very symbol of defeat for an entire generation. Now imagine doing a small scale version of that in this new world of always on, video everywhere.

As several other posters have pointed out, imagine something like this happening on a personal level. Say Charley Brown finally getting up the nerve to talk to the red headed girl – and getting shot down. Imagine him replaying this, not in his mind, but in HD. This probably isn’t going to end well.

Or gory accidents with blood and guts everywhere and lots of things happening that probably the public shouldn’t see. Not in full color, HD, and smell-o-vision, anyway.

I see some dim, hazy, outlines of the effect of this on lifelogging and security. We may get some sort of “don’t look or forget” broadcast. Then somebody will try to subvert it, etc. This sort of thing will probably rate a special level of encryption, to protect the user from himself, if nothing else.


Experiments have been done to pin down specific concepts for specific people, but it does appear that you'd need extensive per-person training of the interfaces.

that would be interesting as hell. i'm just envisioning the general consequences of future portable brain-scanning... on linguistic processes, on visual processes, etc. there are sci-fi-ish consequences of even understanding the brain that well, much less making consumer-grade peripherals. ;)

but we're going down the path where the peripherals are coming first, and using the human body as another piece of hardware is a kind of a given at this point for many people. the training set data that could eventually be made available if "lifeblogging" becomes common staggers the mind; think trillions and trillions of data points. or a personal google search engine for interlacing past life experiences to send.

my new prediction is that the average length of a telepathy message should correspond directly to how long it takes a person to read a 150 character text message today. ;)

i've agreed with everything you've said and everything the OP said, as it relates to what's been presented to me so far. but it would be awesome if Charlie got to thinking about telepathy and could school us on what's down that road in a separate post. hehe. much love guys.


oh man. i read what you wrote as 'USENIX'...

then i wondered what kind of coat you were talking about and read it again.

i'mma just leave this lawn gnome here.


I interviewed a customer who was teacher at one of the poorer performing schools in our very suburban borough. They have cameras in all their classrooms. It was officialy introduced to prove that pupils were not in class, but at this school it's the teachers back up.

Currently it helps them when they need to confront their parents with their little darlings behaviour. These days people don't take a teachers word and the children of former delinquents tend to be the most aggressive in defending their childs innocence. It's certainly cut down on the number of assaults on threatened assaults on Teachers by parents.

It also helped a colleague of hers out when a pupil accused him of assault when you could see from the video that he pulled door onto himself. If you have seen some of those secret video documentaries of UK inner city schools it a miracle teachers don't go postal.


But remember that we are talking about an ecosystems that apparently have attractors as per the nature news item on their article, if it is correct. By analogy, the 3 main clusters are your bacterial ecosystem "climate", while the fluctuating populations are the bacterial "weather".


The adult numeracy helpline on 01 992 5522 was a jingle on the tv adverts in the early '80s. We sang along with the number, 01 992 5522, several times, during the advert when watching it in the students' union. None of us had any use for it but it stuck. Really badly. I can still hear the tune.

Of all the junk my memory contains that has to be the most useless. I'd love to edit it out.

What is even more disturbing is that it doesn't seem to be recognised by Google. My internal memory is not validated by consensual reality. Does that mean it didn't happen?


I think not.

Consider the precedent it would set if we establish a baseline for ex post facto censorship of national libraries of record.

Now consider the legacy we'd be leaving for the future if someone as barkingly crazy as Michelle Bachmann (a Christian dominionist) ended up running HMG some years from now and decided to apply that precedent to, oh, I dunno: anything contradicting young earth creationism, say?

Those Sun page three photos were not illegal at the time they were published, and I see no harm in leaving them to sit in the dark until a generation comes along who have a more stable perspective than the current paedophile hysteria and who can use them as historic research material.

(This isn't an argument for child abuse; it's an argument against censoring the historical record in the name of a transient witch hunt.)


If the Sun pictures are bad, then just consider the problems to be had with some album covers from the 70s. The Scorpions' album Virgin Killer is a particular case in point, leading as it did to the Internet Watch Foundation actually blocking part of Wikipedia.


The daughter of a friend of mine went to Pimlico school (London) for a while. In the few months she was there she had her arm broken in an attack and witnessed another girl being sexually assaulted before the entire class (and the teacher). Nothing was done about either incident.


I'm afraid your "not" does nothing to prevent the scenario you outlined. Indeed, it makes it more likely because there would be no precedent of refusal to "enforce that law". It would be better to get it sorted out now with regard to something most people think is stupid rather than later when it would really matter politically to one or more factions.


It would be better to get it sorted out now with regard to something most people think is stupid rather than later when it would really matter politically to one or more factions.

Which just isn't going to happen and for good reason. To quote something Charlie said recently (and I find a brilliant little line) "the near future is 90% the same, 9% predictably different and 1% unexpectedly different". You can not change the law today to plan for a prediction tomorrow because your prediction is not cast iron. What we need, and we need this in general not just for this situation, is a radical overhall of the system so that new legislation can be enacted quickly yet still go through a comprehensive and intelligent development.

Nowadays when a new issue crops up that makes a law unenforceable, obsolete or not fit-for-purpose it takes years upon years to enact any change (with potentially damaging consequences in the interim). The only other time laws come in quickly is when they are rushed through, usually as a knee-jerk response and tend not to be well thought out. What would be best is if we could devise a political and legal system that can adapt to change better than it can now so as to efficiently deal with new situations.


The only way that is going to happen is to make law machine parsible so that contradictions are flagged up by the compiler. Does anyone know of any such research project, or is it one Zero State has to kick off?



Here's the best example of "Life Logging" I've seen so far: "MIT researcher Deb Roy wanted to understand how his infant son learned language -- so he wired up his house with videocameras to catch every moment (with exceptions) of his son's life, then parsed 90,000 hours of home video to watch "gaaaa" slowly turn into "water." Astonishing, data-rich research with deep implications for how we learn."

Also, if you want to log as much of yout own life as possible, I recommend getting an android phone and download the google+ app -> phone automatically uploads all pictures and hd-video to limitless cloudstorage.


Tangential thought. Could lifelogging bootstrap General AI?
With a large body of human interactive data, including physical data, Might it notbe possible to derive a large suite of appropriate responses to a wide range of situations? Using multiple histories, it may be possible to determine the probability of interaction responses ans outcomes.

Thus lifelogging data becomes a valuable data source to mine and embody in a artficial human. Even trivially, it would have a memory to draw from and stereotypically shape it's actions and responses.



As I understand it, the Google translation software uses a form of contextual mapping between languages to try to come up with the most likely translation of text between languages. This is based on scanning vast amounts of documents in the various languages.

Now imagine if someone (say, spammers wanting to outwit spam traps) wanted to try to get something to pass the Turing test, and they had access to enough lifelog data to be able to generate the most likely reactions in all known situations. We might well have something that for all intents and purposes was indistinguishable from human. (And yet, I bet our intellectual reaction would be "Oh no, that's not AI, that's a trick!")

So yes, I would think so.


We may be living in the relatively short era when video is a reliable source of information. I can only assume that the ability to make hard-to-detect fakes will improve, perhaps to the point where lying on video is as easy as lying with words.

You may be thinking that lifelogs could be checked against each other, but it wouldn't surprise me if a lot of people will add some degree of fog.

Assuming that video is reliable, you're talking about a world where laws are enforceable, and your examples are of reasonable laws. However, there may be some mistakes as big as assuming that homosexuality must be prevented lurking in the legal code. The only reason gay rights were possible is that gays had some degree of privacy.

On the other hand, there's a bit in Illuminatus! about a police officer who'd listened to so many bugged phone conversations that he'd achieved a sort of enlightenment about the real range of human behavior. Lifelogging might lead to something of the sort for people in general-- or the loss of privacy might make ubiquitous bullying by the folks who get control of public outrage extremely easy.

I don't know how things are going elsewhere, but in the US there's a big fight going on about whether the police have privacy rights while they're doing their jobs.


A notorious example of how statistical outliers can confuse Google Translate is the Bishop of Stockholm.


Indeed yes.

Apart from making what is elsewhere a pretty reliable assumption, I seem to recall that that particular translation was remarkably accurate.


Ah, new pictures for pedophiles: new lingerie for girls as young as four. The ads have them sitting, posed, hair-arranged, etc. just like grown models.


Thinking about this while reading a book by Robert Sapolsky on stress, it strikes me this sort of exhaustive logging would be a godsend for the medical profession, really in depth reliable data AS LONG as it was somehow automatically searchable.

I trust google with my email even knowing they ARE reading it, because I understand it's a machine parsing the text for contextual advertising, and because I am insufficiently paranoid/not really doing anything illegal/to small a fish for anyone to notice.

If the lifelog could be queried and parsed in a sufficiently impersonal automated way so that say, your care giver could get data about my habits without necessarily having to look at everything I've been doing for the last 6 months this could be valuable, despite my luddite knee jerk that I would hate it.

Truth is I already log my daily runs on a google app that is one button click away from uploading to public maps, so I guess I'm already partly there (Look doc, I run 8 miles every day!)


Awesome read, very awesome. But I'd have to correct you on some things.

First, the biological revolution. Is it happening? Sure. Is anyone smart enough to pick the winning companies going to get "internet boom" or better rich? Probably.

But a century is too far out. There are drugs, in trials NOW that can possibly extend human life beyond 120 years+ Which means, depending on your age, the possibility of immortality is a lot closer than many would daily think about or readily believe possible.

Secondly, yeah we'll find some new renewable energy source. Global warming solved, even the most ardent of blathering pundits will stop when their dog dies of the next super heat wave. But the form of it will probably be in fusion. Fusion is possible, it's just hard. Steam engines were also hard, and they went back over a hundred years before they became popularized.

Thirdly, I gotta go, so I'll get to that. Great article!


I'm quite sick and disabled. Why would I want to live so long? I'd much rather have meds that made me well, rather than the only available ones that help keep me alive.


I know, Marilee. Although I'm not disabled, the thought of spending endless centuries as an office suit is a profoundly depressing idea. Immortality only works if you get something out of it beyond simply not dying.

That's the paradox here: suffering is universal, although certainly each of us suffers to a greater or lesser extent. The only good use I can see for suffering for centuries is enlightenment, or some other similar purpose. Living for centuries, just to avoid dying, seems like a profound waste of time and life to me.


@ 15 Point Dates of significant advances.... Newcomen - 1712 Watt - 1774 (ish) Stephenson - 1830 Parsons - 1887-1897

So fusion?


There are at least 5 fusion schemes in the works that might pay off in the near term ie 5 years rather than 50. What is sure however, is that Tokamak will never produce cheap electricity no matter what the timescale.


Wasn't the riot last week an example of the fundamental weakness of surveillance? CCTV is history - rioting is politics.


The most basic weakness of CCTV is low resolution. And if you want it to really work, add thermal imaging


I don't think this has come up in this thread yet, though I may have skimmed past it: Life-blogging for minors is itself going to trigger anti-pedophile image laws. In the U.S., at least, I'd expect the same flavor of colliding moral panics that we had when the TSA's clothing-penetrating body scanner images were widely deployed, and included minors.


It would be better to get it sorted out now with regard to something most people think is stupid rather than later when it would really matter politically to one or more factions.

Good point. Certainly very few people can honestly feel shocked about men looking at pictures of Samantha Fox without much clothing on. The flip side of this is that without at least the pretense of an issue it's hard to get anyone to do anything.

It could be useful to have some people pre-positioned with unreasonable but technically correct positions so as to catch hysteria movements before they gain momentum, but this does not seem easy to arrange.


The other thing that saved us with SARS is that it reliably causes fever before you reach the maximally contagious stage, so relatively low-tech initial screening is possible. This contrasts with influenza, which is contagious before symptoms start and which is less reliably detectable -- many people don't have classic flu symptoms.


Actually, the CCTV helped the police bring in a lot of the rioters.


If you want to know to whom I was replying, look at the top of my post.


Heck, I'm not even shocked by women looking at Samantha Fox (had to look her up).


Many thanks, but I think I'm looking at a slightly different point. There was an existing thread on ex-post-facto laws criminalizing the existing historical record, starting with #150, dirk bruere's append, with the example of the UK Sun newspaper photos of the early 1980s. This is the case of photos from a large institution. I'm looking at more of the case where life-logging produces widely-sourced data. Particularly in the case where detailed life-logging becomes sufficiently widespread that to not log is suspicious, it can become a double bind: Minors declining to life-log would be suspicious, and those that do would be breaking the child pornography laws.


If minors are coerced into life-logging, they are not the ones responsible for the outcome. The adults who told them to do it are responsible. This may be considerably obfuscated in the courts, where the adults can afford more lawyers.


... the development of China and India. Both nations – together they account for 2.5 billion people, more than four times the USA and EU combined ... I guess you wanted to say "more than three times". Current numbers from wikipedia: (1,339,724,852 + 1,210,193,422) / (308,745,538 + 502,486,499) = 3,14


Today in the US, selective enforcement is legal, established, judge made case law. Immoral, but legal. I got a ticket for not having a front license plate. My car didn't have a place to install a front license plate because it was built 20 years ago. Even today many cars in California do not have front license plates, 3 of 24 in a parking lot where I counted them. But how many others got tickets? Lifelogging is not the cause of selective enforcement, just an enabler.


In Europe, front plates, or plate holders, are normally bolted or screwed directly to the front bumper bar. We don't often have a recess for them.


Okay, if you can't go looking for the person to whom I was replying, I'll tell you: Charlie.


"There are at least 5 fusion schemes in the works that might pay off in the near term ie 5 years rather than 50. "

As has been repeatedly pointed out, we're always 30 years from practical fusion power.


OTOH I've also seen it claimed by people who were reviewing the latest research in the field that the gap to a genuine fusion generator (one that evolves more energy than it uses) is narrowing by an order of magnitude every 10 years.


Our nuclear power plant obeyed and turned itself off and the diesel generators on after our 5.8 earthquake. Well trained.


Sorry for coming late to the conversation.

jboss's post suggests an interesting point. If lifelogs are to be a resource for evidence, then it's going to have to be illegal to edit your own lifelog.

Otherwise, this suggests a new career--personal branding consultants offering to give your l-log a cosmetic edit.


If lifelogs are to be a resource for evidence, then it's going to have to be illegal to edit your own lifelog.

Why? We have lots of things that are accepted as evidence that can be edited today. Which is why we get to spend a fortune on experts who try and decided if evidence is genuine or not.

People will demand lifelogging will be editable. Forgetting to turn it off during certain activities will create the need day 0. Unless you're into showing off your private activities.


I had in mind the more invasive-totalitarian scenarios discussed up-thread. If the Gov is going to claim the ability/right to use your own lifelog against you, they're not going to want you erasing evidence.


Additional minor thought: Seems to me part of the point of the lifelog is that it's always on, so you can go back and look for something you might have missed during the event.

If it's yours to control (given plenty of storage space) there's no need to shut it off. Nobody else needs to see it if you don't want them to.


the Gov is going to claim the ability/right to use your own lifelog against you,

In the US this would get into some serious discussions and court cases about self incrimination.


Thank you for posting this transcript, Mr. Stross. I enjoyed reading it, unlike much of your work in the last few years. Please do more like this in the future.



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on August 16, 2011 1:35 PM.

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