Sci-Fi is fast becoming reality

Mellow greetings citizen. What’s your boggle?

30 January 2017

Yes, you guessed it, I’ve recently re-watched the much maligned Sly/Snipes/Bullock sci-fi flick that was Demolition Man. This 1993 film set in 2032 depicted the utopian city San Angeles where through strict control of human behaviour, crime has been completely eliminated. Only our two muscle bound hero and anti-hero, ‘fresh’ from their cryogenic thaw, haven’t been programmed by the rules of this new society and therefore wreak havoc on the city leaving a trail of destruction and ‘Code 187: MurderDeathKills’ in their wake.

What has this got to do with technology, you might ask? Well, while a rather unbelievable story in itself, the film does make a number of (at the time) bold predictions about technology in the future. And of all the sci-fi films I’ve watched, it probably scores the most hits in terms of accuracy… even though in 2017 we’re still a decade and a half away from the time in which the story is set! The film features (amongst other things):

  • Video calling
  • Self-driving cars
  • Retina scans
  • Voice-activated AI assistants
  • Tablet computers
  • Virtual Reality headsets
  • CCTV
  • Online learning

The other aspect of technology the film depicts which was what prompted me to write this article was the tracking of people and objects and their use to control behaviour, especially that of the people of San Angeles. Again, the tracking aspect is now commonplace today. Anyone with a smartphone equipped with a GPS chip will know that various apps are constantly uploading location-based information to internet databases. As the Internet of Things starts to proliferate, how many more bits of information about our daily routines or behaviour might be recorded and available for anyone to access or purchase?

To illustrate this, I recently had to install a vehicle tracker to my car. Apparently, the underwriters of my insurance company categorise my ‘Bavarian Family Barge’ as one of the most stolen vehicles in Britain! That got me thinking about how much data was being collected by the mobile company running this service and – while I can’t be 100% certain – I don’t think I clicked on anything that gave them permission (or denied them permission) to collect this data… or indeed share this information with anyone. Wow, just think of the information drifting around in the Internet bubble that’s now available about me! For example this might include the location of departure, destination, route, time and distance of all my journeys. This data is made easily accessible via the online vehicle tracker app meaning that my business mileage claims will become a whole lot less tedious to administer going forward! It probably also notes how fastidiously I stick to the speed limit on the motorways. This data is already used automatically to earn gold stars (and insurance credits) with some insurance policies. From humble beginnings, it’s not a big leap to imagine a world where speeding tickets will be automatically issued… or one where cars will be controlled remotely to restrict their speed or where they are allowed to travel to overcome congestion issues for example. Let’s hope this type of ‘Big Brother’ control doesn’t see the light of day and that we can be spared the ‘auto swearing fines’ depicted in the Demolition Man movie!

Interestingly, the changes to the Data Protection laws due to be introduced in May 2018 (GDPR) now include further explicit definition to the term ‘Personal Data’ to embrace information such as location, IP address etc. So, my Vehicle Tracking supplier should be subject to data protection requirements. When you start to look at the personal data generated by connect devices, the digital footprint left by people is immense. The controls and measures needed to ensure that data can be tracked and erased is complex – especially when such data is collected across multiple jurisdictions.

The right to be ‘forgotten’ is a really interesting point. In Demolition Man, the rebels who don’t like their behaviour controlled go ‘off grid’ and live unmonitored beneath the city. Part of me wonders how anyone could achieve an ‘off grid’ status in today’s connected society with its associated conveniences and benefits. Hopefully, this will never be a necessity and GDPR and the associated regulations will mean personal data is stored and processed securely. It will also mean that individuals will have the ability to maintain control over ‘who has access to what’… or who can use their personal data.

Be well!


Mike Constantine

Chief Technical Officer

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