< Go Back

Guardians of Privacy

Guardians of Privacy

    Sultans used eunuchs to guard their harems. The Vatican uses Swiss Guards for protection. In Harry Potter’s world, goblins operate the Gingotts Wizarding bank. Apparently there is a right kind of guardian for every type of asset. I was thinking about this as I wondered about the best way to protect personal information. My suggestion is nuns.

    I would trust nuns to guard my personal information in the cloud. I would also trust nuns to keep the government from getting my information and using it for evil. But I would limit the job to nuns who have been in the habit, so to speak, for at least twenty years. That sort of person is unlikely to suddenly turn evil and accept a bribe. And nuns don’t fear death because they are sure the afterlife is an upgrade. I think nuns would be well -suited to resisting government pressure.

    Now that we have trustworthy guardians of privacy, how can this arrangement make the world a better place? What useful applications would be possible if the government mandated that the location of your phone and your automobile must always be broadcast via Internet to a nun-protected database? Let’s say the government gives the phone industry and the auto industry five years to meet this new location-awareness standard, including retrofitting old cars. And let’s add some video cameras to the inside and inside of cars while we’re at it.

    I would think that in this imagined future, transportation energy costs would drop by about 20%. I’ll give you a few reasons why. For starters, all parking spaces could be wired with sensors so no one ever has to circle the block looking for a place to park. When your car enters a neighborhood, it accesses the parking database and displays the nearest available spots on its navigation screen.

    Now imagine all cars have the new technology that lets you see your own car as if you are above it. I already have that feature on my car, thanks to side and rear cameras; it makes parking a snap. I literally park the car as if I’m playing a video game. I just look at the navigation screen and maneuver the animated depiction of my car into the actual space that my side and rear cameras are showing. Parallel parking is one clean motion every time. It’s frickin’ magic. Let’s imagine that streetlights someday have cameras that your car can only view when you are directly below. That gives every driver a bird’s eye view of street parking even without side and rear cameras.

    We can get rid of speed traps in this future world. If your car exceeds the speed limit by ten miles per hour, your car gives you a warning that a ticket will be issued by email if you continue. If you continue anyway, you get an email within minutes advising you that your checking account or credit card has already been debited the amount of the ticket. That should save a lot of time and money for enforcement. And it will save on gas as well, since speeding uses more fuel than obeying the speed limit.

    The offset to that savings might be higher average speed limits on all roads because driving would be so much safer with this new technology. I could imagine, for example, that in foggy conditions the speed limit would decrease automatically and notify all cars accordingly. Perhaps the system can even change speed limits dynamically depending on the driving records of everyone on the road at any given moment. During school hours, for example, you might find that the average quality of drivers is very high (because no kids are driving) and relatively few drivers are inebriated. So the system might bump up the speed limit for a few hours. Physical speed limit signs would be removed because your car would know where it is and what the speed limit is at any moment.

    At some point it might be possible to eliminate traffic lights and stop signs in favor of having the Internet regulate all speeds as you approach intersections. The goal would be to keep all cars moving all the time but automatically adjust speeds so no cars collide. That would save a lot of gas, and lives too. Drivers would control their own speed until they approached an intersection, at which point the Internet would take control temporarily.

    No one would ever get lost in this world. Over time, all cars would be retrofitted with GPS navigation. Retrofitting might be as simple as adding a dashboard screen that syncs to your smartphone. GPS navigation eliminates most wrong turns and thus saves gas.

    Google’s vision of driverless cars gets us to a similar place. But human psychology might prevent adoption of driverless cars. I hope I’m wrong because that would be awesome. The halfway version, in which each driver has a much smarter car that acts like a copilot seems more likely.

    Carpooling would be easier in this imagined world. You could walk to any parking lot and your smartphone would tell you who is heading to your neighborhood in the next few minutes based on past driving patterns. Your phone would start negotiating for that ride as you entered the parking lot. If the intended driver has different plans, he sees the message on his phone and declines it. Your phone goes automatically to the next driver and even shows you a map in the parking lot so you can walk right up to the correct car. You arrive just as the driver is pulling out of his spot, already expecting you because he has tracked your location. He waves you to open the door. You hop in. No words are spoken. Your smartphone and the driver’s phone record the trip distance as it happens, and transfer a preauthorized payment from the rider to the driver to compensate for gas. Video cameras in the rearview mirror keep the passenger from robbing and raping the driver, and vice versa.

    Carpooling would also become more popular if each car has Internet access because it allows people to do work on the way to the office. I can imagine some progressive companies might start counting your commute time as work time as long as you have your laptop and you are not the driver. That would spread out the rush hour, reduce traffic, and save huge amounts of gas.

    Hailing a cab would be convenient too. You’d always know where the nearest cab is and how long before it arrives. No one could steal your cab because the cab driver would automatically identify passengers by their phone. If the wrong person tries to climb in, the cab would sound a buzzer.

    I have a theory that drunk driving could be nearly eliminated if cabs were convenient and – this next part is important – partly funded by health and auto insurance companies so the price is always reasonable. Perhaps the discount price only kicks in for people travelling to and from places that serve alcohol during certain hours of the day. That wouldn’t stop all drunk drivers, but it would put a dent in it.

    Now imagine your car knows its passengers by their smartphone locations. The car’s radio could find music that matches the preferences of everyone in the car, possibly by checking each person’s iTunes or other music collections in the cloud and looking for common songs.

    Now imagine all traffic accidents are recorded on the car’s video cameras and sent to the Internet in the event of a crash. That saves a huge amount of money in court cases because it will always be obvious who is at fault.

    Imagine too that your car can identify in advance any cars on your road that are driving erratically or have recently come from a bar. You’d be able to keep your distance. That would help too.

    There would be no more high-speed car chases in this future world. Police can stop any car’s engine via Internet. Just plug in the license plate number and it rolls to a stop.

    Imagine that you never have to reach for a key as long as your phone is in your pocket and knows its location. Doors would unlock when you approach, and even the lighting, heating, and entertainment in your home, office, or car would adjust to your preferences.

    To enjoy all of these services, all you need to do is trust nuns with your location information. And let’s say the nuns are not directly paid for their services. Rather, the payments from all of the industries using this common database go to the poor. It’s a win-win.

    My guess is that the coming wave of location-sensing applications will be as important to the global economy as the auto industry or the computer industry. It’s a big deal, affecting every phone, computer, door, entertainment system, and auto. All we need is some visionary government leadership of the sort that helped bring us GPS satellites and the Internet. And ¬†we need nuns to keep the government out of our location data.

More Episodes