Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pervasive Computing, DOOH, Intelligent Buildings, Programmable Nano-based Sensors, Privacy & Security, & Ethics...hmmm

Through my coursework and readings, I've become more aware of issues that we face in the future regarding the use of intelligent agents within the applications and related technologies that are cropping up in public spaces. Most people who pass by digital displays in retail settings don't know that quite a bit of information can be gathered about them, without their knowledge or permission, via camera-enabled technology, embedded in the displays around them.

These issues have been percolating for quite some time. Most recently, a company from China, Danoo, has partnered with Blue Bite, to use location scouting and scalable web technologies to provided very specific marketing content to people as they are out and about. To participate in this process, detailed metrics regarding the user/customer is required. Although I assume this information is used for marketing purposes only, the data generated by this system, over time, would generate quite a bit of fodder for someone who was interested in using this information for ill-intended purposes.

From what I can tell, this is a topic that is not on the radar of the mainstream population. I'm concerned that we don't have a forum for sharing information and gathering input from the general public about this matter.

Perhaps there is some hope.

Christine Peterson, of the Foresight Nanotech Institute, raises some key issues and important questions that need further discussion in her talk, "Open Source Physical Security: Can we have both?"(pdf), part of the O'Reily Open Source Convention held in 2008. Christine is invovled in the Open Source Sensing initiative, one of the projects of the Foresight Institute.

The following byline and related graphic, taken from the Open Source Sensing website highlights why this is very important:

"Pervasive sensing is arriving soon -
we have a short window of opportunity for guiding this technology to protect both our security *and* our privacy."


Christine asks the question, "Who can figure out whether & how to collect public sensing data? She states that we "need a community that understands the relationships between security, privacy, functionality (and) freedom".

Christine points out that governments use a "top-down" approach to a "bottom-up" problem. This process, she defines, is centralized, mandatory, monolithic, limited in participation, secretive, and leads to a "Surveillance State". (Think "1984").

The biggest problem, in my opinion, related to this topic, is that it affects a wide range of sectors that are in the process of converging, and this convergence appears to be market-driven. Intelligent Buildings. Digital Out of Home. Interactive Display Marketing Systems. Mobile Gaming. Location-Based Media. Some of these issues are becoming important areas of concern in academia, particularly with those involved in privacy/security, pervasive computing research, and so forth.

Video of Presentation


Some socio-technical aspects of intelligent buildings and pervasive computing research (pdf)
Vic Callaghan, Graham Clark, Jeannette Chin of the Digital Lifestyles Centre, University of Essex
Intelligent Buildings International (1)

"In this article we have discussed how embedded intelligent agents might contribute to future directions of intelligent buildings and smart environments, together with raising social consequence of their use. Currently there is an increasing level of debate on ethical issues such as privacy in ICT, particularly with respect to technologies such as identity and loyalty cards, data mining, internet search engines and RFID tags. As computer scientists actively researching the technologies involved, we have sought to extend this discussion into the area of intelligent buildings and smart environments....we have found ourselves dealing with questinos that concern the ethics of specific aspects of intelligent buildings and smart environments together with its potential for being turned from a beneficial technology for both the individual and society into its opposite....These issues are also critical for all those pursuing ambient intelligence projects which intail the widespread deployment of intelligent agents."

Foresight: Open Source Sensing

Open Source Sensing Blog "Maximizing benefits and minimizing downsides of the Sensing Age"

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