TEDxSeattle: Greg Bear On Too Much Information

Using word pictures like “the pig’s blood of technology,” award-winning science fiction author Greg Bear urged Friday’s TEDxSeattle audience to be mindful of our increasingly public and digitally-archived lives. “The web that knows who you are … do you want it to?” he asked.

“All of us are neural nodes” in a massive and “vast social brain.” What does it mean to live in a world where finding a moment of private time — for nefarious or honorable reasons — becomes nearly impossible?

We don’t know, Bear asserted. “We must understand that we cannot predict the ultimate social response to technology.” In part, that is because society changes over time. Bear painted two scenarios related to our increasingly visible digital lives.

In one, he used humor to take us to a world where everyone has a digital dossier. In that world, no one would be warning us not to put something on YouTube because it might keep us from finding a job. In that world, Bear imagines an intricate (and funny) game of one-up-manship.

But in the other world, a darker world, social mores have changed. In that future world, behavior that was “acceptable” in 2010 (like drinking coffee) is no longer legal. Now that intensely public life takes on a new meaning as we, society, act as a harsh judge.

Bear said he started thinking about a world of diminished privacy in the late 1980s. Back then, futurists imagined a world criss-crossed by closed-circuit television networks, street corner surveillance under government jurisdiction. Today, the CCTV User Group estimates that there are about 1.5 million public space surveillance cameras in the UK. In March, the BBC reported an assassination plot in Dubai that was captured by “the surveillance cameras (CCTV) that are everywhere in the emirate.”

But those images are the least of our worries. Bear predicted that we will “soon” have 4D recording devices in our glasses. What’s a 4D recording device? One that records height, width, depth and time. With such devices on the outside of our cars, if a car were to get as close as 10 feet to yours, your car could take a 4D snap and upload it to a central database. Get x-number of reports in N-time? The car’s owner gets a ticket. All automagically.

Cameras in phones, cameras in glasses, cameras in cars, cameras on street corners, cameras in your local supermarket, cameras in the library …. cameras everywhere. “How will we have time to be private?” Bear asked. “Think of all the thousands of tweets no one reads and the videos on YouTube that are lonely (they don’t have cats on them) … What are we going to do with our lives when too many people are watching us and when no one is watching us? Do you acquire wisdom by being disconnected?”

Oh, about that colorful intro. Bear asked: “Who is watching whom? Do you trust yourself to judge someone else? It’s like Carrie over-and-over again: we all get covered with the pig’s blood of technology.”

Bear’s works include Mariposa, Quantico, City At The End Of Time, Eon, Blood Music, The Forge of God, and Darwin’s Radio.

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This post first appeared on the TEDxSeattle blog.

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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