Trying to keep up with technology

Thirty-six million faces per second. That’s the capacity of a Japanese-designed people-tracking system

Thirty-six million faces per second. That’s the capacity of a Japanese-designed people-tracking system reported on the Internet by Gizmag emerging technology magazine.

This looks like a signpost on a road leading to wider Big Brother power than Orwell imagined. Fear of terror attack drives us toward a network in which hundreds of millions of faces and characters are held ready for close examination.

Some may be angry, dangerous people. The fear and the surveillance won’t diminish until we cool the anger.

Maybe it’s OK to live an open life, like store customers under the camera’s eye. But surveillance could be an instrument of tyranny. The lack of corrective action is one of many instances of political paralysis.

A public enquiry into ways to slow down Big Brother’s advance is needed, but governing politicians appear stunned by the speed and volume of explosive technological change. It may be the biggest human turnabout since the invention of farming, which was followed by population growth and domination by privileged elites.

Those elites may now be losing their grip. We will see how that works out.

Small new gadgets can challenge politicians. Gizmag tells the story of a made-in-Saskatchewan machine that allows a single operator to patch a two-foot road pothole solidly in two minutes, rather than place road-blocks and flagpersons and tie up traffic.

The Python 5000 can drive to the road-fixing scene at highway speed, causing minimum delay. Despite these advantages, few municipalities have adopted it, but New York is trying out the Python, and a rush of orders could follow. Maybe.

Municipal, provincial and federal taxpayers are the same people. Couldn’t the Department of National Defence, municipal, regional and provincial governments and B.C. Transit reach a co-operative arrangement to keep the Blue Boat running, rather than dump commuter cars on the road? If the walls between separate bureaucracies prevent this, isn’t it time bureaucracies were made more flexible?

Locally and globally, the overriding problem arguably is the inability of governing politicians to adapt, invent and co-ordinate.

Gizmag reported that a team of electronic co-operating robots, modelled by scientific engineers on the behaviour of ants, has been created to handle small items in a parts depot.

Worriesome new models of the labour market are brought to mind by the capacity of machines to take over a job that was the domain of knowledgeable kids on roller-skates. Is visionary economist Jeremy Rifkin right when he predicts the end of work and the rise of a new regime of voluntary interchange?

Nobody knows for sure, but the time seems ripe for an in-depth enquiry into that possibility, conducted in a public forum separate from “elect me” politics.

The same goes for the problem of cooling the hatred in some parts of the Islamic world. Arguably the most practical startup strategy would be to give life-saving, comfort-making support to some of the haters.

This could mean exploring foreign aid projects that actually yield material benefits, applying them in a co-ordinated way to such half-friendly Islamic nations as Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and cautiously extending them into more hostile places.

More easily said than done, sure. I don’t pick up even a hint that Western political leaders are making any effective moves to heal the hurtful spots in their policies; but luckily for us, such private agencies as the Aga Khan Development Network, a creative and humane Islamic agency, are serving as pathfinders.

In Pakistan an Aga Khan project has involved communities in a water, sanitation and community development program that has reduced intestinal disease by 25 per cent.

It is one of many such enterprises. I doubt that current Western politicians are paying attention, but the hopeful scenario is that a new array of leaders will carry forward such initiatives on a large scale.

—G.E. Mortimore is a Langford-based writer and a regular columnist with the Gazette.


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