When Technology Betrays Us. (Or, I hate my wretched cell phone.)

I just watched the movie Iron Man, for the second time. Entertaining, albeit sobering, reminder that our own nation’s superior advances in technology–in this case, weapons technology–can be hijacked by friends or foes and, eventually, used against us. Keeping our weapons out of enemy hands is a problem for the Department of Defense to worry about. I’ve got my own “technology trust issues” I’d like to vent about.

Let me start with my  touch screen cell phone. Formerly known as my trusted companion. Keeper of my diary, confider of private discussions. My personal assistant for goodness sake. For no good reason, “it” has turned against me. Randomly dialing people, exposing my conversations for all the world to listen in on. Sneaky thing does this when I least expect it. Like when I’m damning to hell the speeding cab driver, talking to myself, or whispering my sins to Father Mark in the confessional box. 

My phone has more commands and function buttons than my ridiculously over-engineered cable TV remote control. Still I have yet to locate what must be a simple “lock” or “please do not call anyone without my permission” request. Working on it.

Technological applications have the ability to betray insects, too, as it turns out.  Even the smartest of bugs: cockroaches. This New ScientistTech article explains how a matchbox-sized robot can “infiltrate a pack of cockroaches and influence their collective behavior.” The robot can “persuade a group of cockroaches to venture out into the light despite their normal preference for the dark, for example.” 

(Note to self: borrow that little robot to march the menacing mice out of my house and into an open flame.)

I’ve resorted to using this computer as my personal assistant, you see. I’m all synced up with my online contacts and online calendar (functions I used to depend on my cell phone to handle until it turned on me). However, I’m currently investigating options other than the computer and Internet largely because of stats like these, authored by Bill Gates of Microsoft, in this 2007 essay:

Today, connectivity – the basic foundation for anywhere access – can be a double-edged sword. Connectivity that streamlines the flow of information and communications can also open the door to malicious users. How widespread is the problem? In the United States last year, security breaches – some inadvertent, some purposeful and criminal – exposed the personal information of more than 100 million people. In 2005, 46 percent of fraud complaints filed with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission were Internet related. A 2006 report from the Cyber Security Industry alliance noted that 50 percent of Internet users are afraid their credit card information will be stolen.

Maybe my dearly departed Uncle Johnny was right when he gave me this counsel on one of my childhood birthdays: “Computers are stupid and evil. Waste of time. Just like that ballet nonsense. You should have learned something useful, like the foxtrot, Dummy.”
 
Fortunately for us, lots of smart people are working hard to find a solution to Bill’s concerns and instill trust in technology users (us). I had a feeling the defunct Office of Technology Assessment had a hand in investigating the matter back in the early 1990s, before their doors were closed. The OTA used to help Congress understand how technology and technology policy would most likely impact society. I dug around a bit and found this OTA report on Information Security and Privacy in Network Environments (1995).

In this report, the OTA studied “legal issues and information security, including electronic commerce, privacy, and intellectual property.” And the office identified “about two dozen possible options” in which “the need for openness, oversight, and public accountability–given the broad public and business impacts of these policies–runs throughout the discussion of possible congressional actions.”

Unfortunately, the OTA was caught in a bipartisan slapdown resulting in its closure right about the time this issue update was completed. Would people trust technology more today if the OTA’s recommendations had been implemented? I say, “yes.” It’s one of the reasons I am pushing for better, stronger OTA to be reopened. Better and stronger because, unlike the OTA of the past, the new OTA  will include public participation in important discussions of science and technology policies. Other countries do this. In fact, the E.U. and Denmark modeled our OTA to create their own OTAs but they one-upped us by including public participation.

Ah, once again, a great idea, hijacked.  Let’s get our OTA back.

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  • Dave Stratton

    I sympathize and empathize entirely. I feel like most of my tech gear is a lot like my brain. I am only able to use about 10% of its potential. My son has a gaming toy (PSP by Sony) that can find, linked up with and interract in real time either online or within 200 yards…a seperate device…entity or or indidual…download and play games, show movies ( and really. god knows what else) …all in real time…I have difficultly loading the game discs properly. My new camera the same…soooo many functions…sooo little patience…so little time to read the 400 page user guide!!…when I hit the lottery I will hire a techinical tutor/assistant to follow me everywhere…so i can enjoy life ( and my stuff) to the fullest(?)

    great blog!

    Thanks!

  • Dave Stratton

    I sympathize and empathize entirely. I feel like most of my tech gear is a lot like my brain. I am only able to use about 10% of its potential. My son has a gaming toy (PSP by Sony) that can find, linked up with and interract in real time either online or within 200 yards…a seperate device…entity or or indidual…download and play games, show movies ( and really. god knows what else) …all in real time…I have difficultly loading the game discs properly. My new camera the same…soooo many functions…sooo little patience…so little time to read the 400 page user guide!!…when I hit the lottery I will hire a techinical tutor/assistant to follow me everywhere…so i can enjoy life ( and my stuff) to the fullest(?)

    great blog!

    Thanks!

  • Dawn Bent

    Oh the day of the information super high way and sometimes I can barely get off of the back roads. I too am a slave to the text messaging,cell phone, internet, gps and the likes. What did I ever do without these things? I often wonder where are the days of pulling over and looking at a map, then needing to use a dime in the payphone to say “I’m lost”. It is such a shame that one barely comprehends the use of a device when the new one comes out…then whoa we have to get it. Heck, technology has us so tied..I just realized that I don’t even have the white or yellow pages book anymore!!

    Love this site!
    PS its bookmarked on my computer and cell phone!

  • Dawn Bent

    Oh the day of the information super high way and sometimes I can barely get off of the back roads. I too am a slave to the text messaging,cell phone, internet, gps and the likes. What did I ever do without these things? I often wonder where are the days of pulling over and looking at a map, then needing to use a dime in the payphone to say “I’m lost”. It is such a shame that one barely comprehends the use of a device when the new one comes out…then whoa we have to get it. Heck, technology has us so tied..I just realized that I don’t even have the white or yellow pages book anymore!!

    Love this site!
    PS its bookmarked on my computer and cell phone!

  • Pingback: Cell Phone Secure. | 7Wins.eu

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