In a 2015 video, Microsoft’s Joseph Sirosh described the advantages of wiring up a herd of cows to the cloud application via a motion sensor. One of the farmer’s problems is determining when a cow is in estrous so it can be artificially inseminated during the short period it is fertile. Motion sensors can pick up the abnormal restlessness of cows in heat with 95% accuracy, leading to immense benefits for the Japanese farmers who implemented the system of connected cows.
The Chinese Communist Party used the same system to inform and guide its quarantine during the recent Covid-19 outbreak: “China used locational and other data from hundreds of millions of smartphones to contain the spread of Covid-19, according to Chinese sources familiar with the program.”
In addition to draconian quarantine procedures, which kept more than 150 million Chinese in place at the February peak of the coronavirus epidemic, China used sophisticated computational methods on a scale never attempted in the West. …
Chinese government algorithms can estimate the probability that a given neighborhood or even an individual has exposure to Covid-19 by matching the location of smartphones to known locations of infected individuals or groups. The authorities use this information to use limited medical resources more efficiently by, for example, directing tests for the virus to high-risk subjects identified by the artificial intelligence algorithm.
All smartphones with enabled GPS give telecom providers a precise record of the user’s itinerary. Smartphone users in the United States and Europe can access their own data, but privacy laws prevent the government from collecting this data. China has no such privacy constraints.
Without Western limits, the Chinese Communist Party treated hundreds of millions like a herd of cows. Any doubt that a similar technological capability exists in the West is dispelled by Taiwan. The island nation also managed its population similarly.
Taiwan integrated its national health insurance database with its immigration and customs database to begin the creation of big data for analytics. That allowed them case identification by generating real-time alerts during a clinical visit based on travel history and clinical symptoms.
Taipei also used Quick Response (QR) code scanning and online reporting of travel history and health symptoms to classify travelers’ infectious risks based on flight origin and travel history in the last 14 days. People who had not traveled to high-risk areas were sent a health declaration border pass via SMS for faster immigration clearance; those who had traveled to high-risk areas were quarantined at home and tracked through their mobile phones to ensure that they stayed home during the incubation period.
As the outbreak spreads in the West, some will demand the creation of an equivalent system — in the interests of public health, of course. It is here where the absence of public policy treating private data as property and speech will be most felt. Google is already able to provide exactly the same information the Chinese Communist Party uses pursuant to a request from law enforcement.
The new orders, sometimes called “geofence” warrants, specify an area and a time period, and Google gathers information from Sensorvault about the devices that were there. It labels them with anonymous ID numbers, and detectives look at locations and movement patterns to see if any appear relevant to the crime. Once they narrow the field to a few devices they think belong to suspects or witnesses, Google reveals the users’ names and other information. …
In a statement, Richard Salgado, Google’s director of law enforcement and information security, said that the company tried to “vigorously protect the privacy of our users while supporting the important work of law enforcement.” He added that it handed over identifying information only “where legally required.”
When a deadly pathogen is on the loose, might not Google be plausibly required to identify Patient Zero’s contacts? Should this prove problematic, many people might still voluntarily opt to be connected cows. Fitness trackers, for example, may provide early warning of the onset of coronavirus-type symptoms. A journal article titled “Harnessing wearable device data to improve state-level real-time surveillance of influenza-like illness in the USA: a population-based study” says:
Acute infections can cause an individual to have an elevated resting heart rate (RHR) and change their routine daily activities due to the physiological response to the inflammatory insult. Consequently, we aimed to evaluate if population trends of seasonal respiratory infections, such as influenza, could be identified through wearable sensors that collect RHR and sleep data.
We obtained de-identified sensor data from 200 000 individuals who used a Fitbit wearable device from March 1, 2016, to March 1, 2018, in the USA. … We identified 47 249 users in the top five states who wore a Fitbit consistently during the study period, including more than 13·3 million total RHR and sleep measures. We found the Fitbit data significantly improved ILI predictions in all five states …
Not a few would choose to be tracked. One way or the other, it seems only a matter of time till we’re all connected cows. The failure to create modes of user-controlled data is the greatest single political failure today. Law and politics are the only remaining bulwark of privacy. The technical battle is over. The West is only one real crisis away from a voluntary surrender of privacy. If the virus doesn’t get us, Skynet, in some sense, will.
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Loserthink: How Untrained Brains Are Ruining America, by Scott Adams. The creator of Dilbert has come up with a guide to spot and avoid mental habits trapping victims in their own bubbles of reality, such as the inability to get ego out of your decisions, thinking with words instead of reasons, failing to imagine alternative explanations, and making too much of coincidences.
Humanity in a Creative Universe, by Stuart A. Kauffman. Best known for his philosophy of evolutionary biology, Kauffman calls into question science’s ability to ever accurately and precisely predict the future development of biological features in organisms. He argues that our preoccupation to explain all things with scientific law has deadened our creative natures and concludes that the development of life on earth is not entirely predictable, because no theory could ever fully account for the limitless variations of evolution.
Working , by Robert A. Caro. From the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, an unprecedented memoir of his experiences researching and writing his acclaimed books.
Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, by Steve Coll. A masterful result of Coll’s indefatigable reporting, this book draws on more than 400 interviews; field reporting from the halls of Congress to the oil-laden swamps of the Niger Delta; more than 1,000 pages of previously classified U.S. documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act; heretofore unexamined court records; and many other sources. This is a defining portrait of ExxonMobil and the place of Big Oil in American politics and foreign policy.
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Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
Open Curtains by George Spix and Richard Fernandez. Technology represents both unlimited promise and menace. Which transpires depends on whether people can claim ownership over their knowledge or whether human informational capital continues to suffer the Tragedy of the Commons.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific.