“Reality Mining” Inside Big Brother’s Control Grid

Old-Thinker News | June 29, 2009

By Daniel Taylor

Data mining is a practice long used by government agencies and companies like Choicepoint to collect a vast amount of information on individuals, trends, and other fields. Now, with the advent of new technologies, a new form of data collection is rising. This new field is called “reality mining”. Social engineers, marketers, as well as government agencies with an interest in learning everything possible about you are eagerly anticipating its widespread use.

Reality mining is one of many facets stemming from a global sensor network that will monitor everything from the environment, subtle variations in human behavior, to everyday objects. It consists of an interconnected network of biometrics, machine vision, radio frequency ID tags, Global Positioning Systems, “geotagging”, wireless sensors, “smart dust”, and traditional surveillance equipment. This is a “system of systems”. In short, everything is to be monitored in a digital real-time mirror of the real world. Gary Boone of Accenture Technology labs writes,

“Sensors streaming their data online are turning the Internet into a global sensor network. Software platforms that integrate and mine these data streams may create a world in which sensors become pixels and we browse reality as easily as we browse Web pages today.”

President Obama is helping to further this technological trend through the computerization of health records, and the creation of an internet based smart energy grid. The new smart energy grid will have the capability to monitor an individual’s or company’s energy use in real time. Yahoo Finance reports on the smart grid,

“Today’s powerful, low-cost computer chips and high-speed networks make smart grids feasible. The grid concept is often described as “the Internet of things,” said Sam Lucero, an ABI Research analyst.

“Sensors are going into more and more devices that will permeate our lives,” Lucero said. “In the next 15 to 20 years, sensors will permeate our infrastructure and monitor the physical environment.”

The smart energy grid isn’t the only technological project being pursued under Obama’s administration. The U.S. Census Bureau has launched a program to “…capture the latitude and longitude of the front door of every house, apartment and improvised shelter they find.” NPR reported in 2006 on the planned 2009 program,

“Two-and-a-half years from now, in early 2009, the Census Bureau plans to send an army of 100,000 temporary workers down every street and dusty, dirt road in America. They will be armed with handheld GPS devices.

“We will actually knock on doors and look for hidden housing units,” he says. “We will find converted garages; from the outside, it may not look like anybody lives there.”

At her computer, with a few clicks of the mouse, Elhami can pull up a complex, multi-layered picture of Delaware County. Standard commercial software lets her highlight sewer lines, flood plains or real estate tracts. She can pick any address and retrieve pictures of that building from overhead and from the street, along with information about its owner.”

Indeed, the Census Bureau has sent 140,000 workers to “geotag” homeowners locations in 2009, as planned. Google’s Street View is yet another facet to the “data cloud” that makes browsing reality possible. In addition to highways and cities, Google is mapping hiking trails with a bike mounted camera equipped with GPS.

Social engineers are getting another tool with the rise of new technologies as well. The widespread use of cell phones and ubiquitous computing devices will allow them “…to learn more about individual and group behavior on both micro and macroscale,” as the Futurist magazine reports. Cell phones are providing interested parties with a wealth of information about you. Erica Orange writes,

“Social scientists have long struggled to create comprehensive and predictive models of human social dynamics… As human interaction becomes increasingly virtual, our ability to analyze speech, interpret movements, and anticipate behavior will compound exponentially.”

“We will increasingly be able to track both macro and microtrends as they relate to everything from consumer spending habits to criminal behavior,” Orange writes.

Orange continues, stating that cell phones will eventually monitor user’s physical activity, and even detect the rhythm of user’s voices. She writes, “Since even the smallest change in the environment can influence behavior, mobile phones may eventually monitor users’ physical activity and the rhythms of their voice.”

She matter-of-factly states that, “People will have to accommodate themselves with the idea that their lives will be highly documented and that records provided both knowingly and unknowingly are part of a global digital future.” This is already a fact today, but technologies will become ever more intrusive.

Research is underway at Dartmouth on cell phone software called SoundSense that listens to and categorizes the ambient noise around the phone. The information will “…reveal trends that are relevant to modeling the spread of disease, determining personal health-care needs, improving time management, and even updating social-networks.” Under the control of the University research group, protecting privacy was attempted, but when the technology is in the hands of government or corporate interests, privacy will undoubtedly take a back seat. Government agencies already use cell phones to listen in on conversations. A 2006 court case revealed that cell phones can be used to surveil conversations even when the phone is off.

Google is developing similar technology for personal computers. The technology will use PC microphones to monitor noise and target you with “relevant content” on the internet. As the Register reports,

“The idea is to use the existing PC microphone to listen to whatever is heard in the background, be it music, your phone going off or the TV turned down. The PC then identifies it, using fingerprinting, and then shows you relevant content, whether that’s adverts or search results, or a chat room on the subject.”

The earth’s environment will be monitored as well with sensor technology. Wireless sensors are being developed to detect CO2 levels.

“…just by walking down the street you could be subject to a personal biometric system, you could be scanned by the gateway of the transit system, there could be something embedded in the street or in the flooring beneath you… you could be touching other tangible interfaces in the environment around you… the lamp posts and the other features of the streetscape could have informational services… and last but not least there’s the surveillance element, there’s a UAV, a robotic helicopter which is also surveying the cityscape and communicating with all of these devices… This is really what I mean by a transformation of the relationship between user and device. This person is not a user anymore in any real sense of the English world, they are a subject.”

It may seem like a vision of a distant science fiction world, but this scenario laid out by Adam Greenfield, author of “Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing”, could be just around the corner. Dr. Kingsley Dennis writes, “If such an irreversible shift is made towards digitally-rendered societies this would arguably ‘lock-in’ a form of monitored control society. With such predictions of an increasingly sensored and enmeshed global system it is difficult to see how living ‘off the Net’ will be a choice in the near future.”