Dystopian Visions: Orwell vs. Huxley?

Orwell vs. Huxley: Whose Dystopian Vision was Correct?

Orwell vs. Huxley: Whose Dystopian Vision was Correct?
Description: Aldous Huxley
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Aldous Huxley and George Orwell were two of the great prognosticators of the last century. Both men feared dystopian tyranny, albeit via different methods. At this point in history, who looks more correct?

In Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World, citizens are controlled by placating them. In Orwell’s 1984, the government controls citizens via constant oppression and mass surveillance. Both dystopian visions are fearful and ring true in today’s world although I’d give the slight edge to Huxley. Here’s a good summary on the competing dystopian visions from Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared we would become a captive audience. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared that we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate would ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

(Read the rest via Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)

The Drones are Coming

MQ-9 Reaper Drone

A MQ-9 Reaper Drone flies above Creech AFB (2008)
Attribution: Paul Ridgeway
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The drones are coming and not just by air either. In the next few years, an explosion of drones is expected to invade the U.S. by air, by water, and even underground. Here’s more from Robert Beckhusen at Wired.com:

It’s been 10 years since the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) started up operations. During that decade, DHS has moved to the forefront of funding and deploying the robots and drones that could be coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

DHS funds research and development for surveillance robots. It provides grant money by the hundreds of thousands to police agencies to buy their own. And sometimes it’s bought and deployed robots — for their skies, the ground and the waters — of its own, usually concentrated along the border. It’s not clear how many of those robots police operate, and law enforcement isn’t by any means the only domestic market for the ‘bots. But the trend lines point toward more robotic spy tools for law enforcement in more places — with more DHS cash.

But it’s not going to be simple. The Federal Aviation Administration is cautious about opening the skies to unmanned vehicles — so much so that Congress and the Obama administration ordered it to ease up on restrictions by 2015. But not all spy robots fly. DHS is also developing robots that resemble fish, and deploys tunnel-bots deep into drug-smuggling tunnels along the border…

(See the rest at Wired.com)

Police State: Why are Feds Stockpiling Ammo?

Is the U.S. a Police State?

Is the U.S. a Police State?
Description: Dame Wales confronts riot police
Attribution: Joseph Morewood Staniforth (1898)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

While the U.S. government works to disarm its citizens, bureaucrats are stockpiling ammo. Lots and lots of ammo. But no worries. You can trust the police state. Here’s more from Andrew Malcolm at Investors.com:

In a puzzling, unexplained development, the Obama administration has been buying and storing vast amounts of ammunition in recent months, with the Department of Homeland Security just placing another order for an additional 21.6 million rounds…

…DHS has been silent about its need for numerous orders of bullets in the multiple millions. Indeed, Examiner writer Ryan Keller points out Janet Napolitano’s agency illegally redacted information from some ammunition solicitation forms following media inquiries.

According to one estimate, just since last spring DHS has stockpiled more than 1.6 billion bullets, mainly .40 caliber and 9mm. That’s sufficient firepower to shoot every American about five times. Including illegal immigrants. To provide some perspective, experts estimate that at the peak of the Iraq war American troops were firing around 5.5 million rounds per month. At that rate, DHS is armed now for a 24-year Iraq war.

(See the rest at Investors.com)

Police State Update: Do Police Officers Lie?

Police State Update: Do Police Officers Lie?

Police State Update: Do Police Officers Lie?
Description: Dame Wales confronts riot police
Attribution: Joseph Morewood Staniforth (1898)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Police officers are widely viewed as honest public servants. Unfortunately, it turns out they lie under oath, possibly on a massive scale. Yes indeed, the police state is alive and well in the United States. Why do police lie you may ask? Simple. First, they can get away with it. And second, they’re rewarded for it. Here’s more on the rising American police state from the New York Times:

…Peter Keane, a former San Francisco Police commissioner, wrote an article in The San Francisco Chronicle decrying a police culture that treats lying as the norm: “Police officer perjury in court to justify illegal dope searches is commonplace. One of the dirty little not-so-secret secrets of the criminal justice system is undercover narcotics officers intentionally lying under oath. It is a perversion of the American justice system that strikes directly at the rule of law. Yet it is the routine way of doing business in courtrooms everywhere in America.”

The New York City Police Department is not exempt from this critique. In 2011, hundreds of drug cases were dismissed after several police officers were accused of mishandling evidence. That year, Justice Gustin L. Reichbach of the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn condemned a widespread culture of lying and corruption in the department’s drug enforcement units. “I thought I was not naïve,” he said when announcing a guilty verdict involving a police detective who had planted crack cocaine on a pair of suspects. “But even this court was shocked, not only by the seeming pervasive scope of misconduct but even more distressingly by the seeming casualness by which such conduct is employed.”

(See the rest at the New York Times)

A Virus…that Hacks the Human Mind?

Last year, Craig Venter created a form of artificial life, which he called “Synthia.” Now, the field of Synthetic Biology is racing ahead and experts are beginning to wonder what sort of hell this new science might unleash upon the world. Are scientists close to developing a virus that can hack the human mind? In other words, will mind-reading soon be a reality?

Will Mind-Reading Be a Reality in the Future?

“Landscape with the Dream of Jacob”: Will Mind-Reading Be a Reality in the Future?
Painted by Michael Willmann (1691)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Is Mind-Reading a Reality?

The short answer is “No.” Mind-jacking and mind-reading have no basis in reality…at least for the moment. The longer answer is more complicated. Scientists believe that our expertise in the field of genetic engineering is “out-accelerating natural evolution by a factor of millions of years.” And since the human brain is similar in some ways to a computer, it stands to reason that a virus could be created that would allow one person to essentially hack another person’s brain. In other words, mind-reading.

“I advocate that cells are living computers and DNA is a programming language. This is one of the most powerful technologies in the world. I want to see life programmed and used to solve global challenges so that humanity can achieve a sustainable relationship within the biosphere. It’s growing fast. It will grow faster than computer technologies.” ~ Andrew Hessel, Singularity University

How long until Mind-Reading becomes a Reality?

And that day might be closer than you think. According to IBM’s “5 in 5″ predictions, mind-reading will be possible within five years. This will be done by linking the human brain to electronic devices. Some early applications include gaming as well as developing a better understanding of brain disorders like autism.

“While much of the brain remains a mystery, progress has been made in understanding and reading electrical brain activity were we can use computers to see how the brain responds to facial expressions, excitement and concentration levels, and the thoughts of a person without them physically taking any actions. So the idea is to use these electrical synapses to also do everyday activities such as placing a phone call, turning on the lights or even in the healthcare space for rehabilitation.” ~ Kevin Brown, IBM Software Group’s Emerging Technologies

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Once mind-reading becomes a reality, it’s not a far jump to mind control. Of course, there are many potential benefits to these new technologies. But the risks remain profound. Will we someday be uploading the equivalent of security software to our brains to protect them from attack? Only time will tell…

President Obama’s War on Civil Rights

For civil libertarians, it appears that “Hope and Change” means more of the same. Last week, President Obama announced his intention to sign into law a bill that “would deny suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens seized within the nation’s borders, the right to trial and subject them to indefinite detention.”

President Obama takes the Oath of Office

President Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States by Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, Jr.
Attribution: Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo, U.S. Air Force (Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2009)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

President Obama’s War on Civil Rights?

Human Rights Watch summed it up pretty well when it stated that “President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law.” Not surprisingly, the only presidential candidate who’s voiced disagreement is Ron Paul, who recently pointed out that the bill is “literally legalizing martial law.” Here’s Glenn Greenwald for more on this sinister development:

In one of the least surprising developments imaginable, President Obama – after spending months threatening to veto the Levin/McCain detention bill – yesterday announced that he would instead sign it into law (this is the same individual, of course, who unequivocally vowed when seeking the Democratic nomination to support a filibuster of “any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecom[s],” only to turn around – once he had the nomination secure — and not only vote against such a filibuster, but to vote in favor of the underlying bill itself, so this is perfectly consistent with his past conduct). As a result, the final version of the Levin/McCain bill will be enshrined as law this week as part of the the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). I wrote about the primary provisions and implications of this bill last week, and won’t repeat those points here.

The ACLU said last night that the bill contains “harmful provisions that some legislators have said could authorize the U.S. military to pick up and imprison without charge or trial civilians, including American citizens, anywhere in the world” and added: “if President Obama signs this bill, it will damage his legacy.” Human Rights Watch said that Obama’s decision “does enormous damage to the rule of law both in the US and abroad” and that “President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law.”

(See Obama to sign indefinite detention bill into law for the rest)

Predicting “Future Crime?”

In the popular television show, Person of Interest, a mysterious billionaire named Mr. Finch uses a secret computer program to identify people connected to “future crimes.” While Mr. Finch uses the program to save lives, it’s easy to imagine such a thing being used for evil (see: Minority Report). Fortunately, this frightening technology doesn’t exist in real life…does it?

Screenshot of DHS Fast (Future Crime System)

Screenshot of DHS Fast (Future Crime System)
Source: US Government, DHS via Wikipedia

FAST: Future Attribute Screening Technology…or Future Crime Technology?

In 2008, news began to leak out that the Department of Homeland Security was working on a program named Project Hostile Intent (now called FAST, or Future Attribute Screening Technology). Its purpose was to detect “‘mal-intent’ by screening people for ‘psychological and physiological indicators’ in a ‘Mobile Screening Laboratory.’”

Recently, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) obtained an internal document from the Department of Homeland Security. It revealed that FAST is not just a piece of hypothetical technology. Future crime technology is real. And its being tested on real people, albeit voluntarily.

The concept behind FAST is fairly simple. Government agents will use ”video images, audio recordings, cardiovascular signals, pheromones, electrodermal activity, and respiratory measurements” to examine individuals from afar. Advanced algorithms will then analyze this information. This will supposedly allow agents to “predict” future criminal behavior and give them a “head start to stop a crime or violent act in progress.”

Future Crime versus Criminal Profiling?

Technologies to predict the future seem to be all the rage in government agencies these days. The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) is developing a program to detect traitorous insiders who plan to turn on their colleagues. Meanwhile, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA) is working on technology to predict future global events and the “consequences of U.S. intelligence actions.”

Still, the government’s desire to predict the future isn’t new. After all, FAST is, in certain respects, just a more advanced version of the common yet controversial practice of “criminal profiling.” But while profiling usually focuses on just one or two factors, such as ethnicity or gender, FAST goes to a whole other level. It examines ethnicity, gender, age, occupation, breathing patterns, body movements, eye movements, changes in pitch, changes in speech, changes in body heat, and changes in heart rate among other things.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, it would appear that the government is laying the groundwork for a system to predict crime. Fortunately, it’s only confined to employees of the Department of Homeland Security at the moment. Right?

Wrong. It turns out that FAST “has already been tested in at least one undisclosed location in the northeast.” While the nature of this location remains unknown, the DHS claims it wasn’t an airport.

EPIC is concerned about the privacy implications and believes that FAST needs to be reviewed. And it’s hard to argue with them. The privacy concerns are mind-boggling to say the least, especially since the government plans to “retain information” that it collects. In addition, the idea of being spied upon, profiled, singled out, and questioned by government agents for a crime not yet committed is disturbing to say the least. The potential for abuse is alarming and real…Very, very real.