Stay Away

Fri, 30 Jul 1999 15:04:38 -0700

Slightly reformated for ease of reading. 'gene

From: Gregory Alan Bolcer <>

These things would be perfect at cocktail parties:
"Stay away, this idiot's doesn't know WTF he's talking
about and has been violent when drunk the past 88% of the time."


Orwell Checks In on the Valley
by Ayla Jean Yackley

5:05 p.m. 20.Nov.98.PST
SAN JOSE, California -- Pill boxes beep when it's time to take your medicine. Systems play your favorite music when you enter a room. A sensor on your clothing detects the particles in your co-worker's cough. "Stay away," it warns, "he has the flu."

Gregory Benford, a physics professor at the University of California at Irvine, spun these visions of the future at the Cato Institute's three-day Conference on Technology & Society, held here Friday.

If microprocessors decrease in cost to just a few pennies by 2010, Benford predicted they will automate the most mundane of daily activities.

Benford, who is also an author, was joined by futurist writers David Brin, author of Startide Rising and Vernon Vinge, author of A Fire upon the Deep, for a morning discussion of technology's role in creating "fictional futures."

Vinge warned that these inexpensive chips may create a guise for government.

"While government will appear less invasive," it
may in fact own a piece of every processor, he said. Government may conduct activities like tax collection over personal computers, leaving citizens with a smaller space for dissension.

Yet Vinge credited the advent of personal computers in allaying the human fear of technology. Only governments could own the gargantuan,
multimillion-dollar machines of the 1950s and 1960s, which caused citizens to distrust what they could not control.

"The PC destroyed the notion of the computer
thwarting freedom, leading to a 1984," he said, and personal ownership has created the sense that technology enhances freedom.

But technology can still lead to an Orwellian scenario, said Brin, who laid out a conspiratorial vision straight out of The X-Files.

Brin said a "surveillance society" could manifest out of seemingly benign personal computers. As society becomes more networked, he said, human behavior may be tracked with less obvious methods than, say, video surveillance. Instead, movements may be documented by learning which Web sites are visited or how much time is spent online.

Benford said our comfortable relationship with personal computers may lead to a culture of complacency, as people opt for convenience over freedom. He described a "sissy society" that lives in

"We'll all sit in our 'friendly homes' ... and we won't
carry out the big projects," he said.

But Brin disagreed. "We'll find new challenges, worries, and hobbies. We'll jump out of planes or go nuts in good ways."

"Yes, but these are more personal and less
meaningful activities than human pursuits of the past," Benford countered.

The debate among the futurists showed the lack of consensus on technology's unfolding purposes and pitfalls. The Cato Institute's parley continues through Saturday.