Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Don't Skate to the Puck

"Some people skate to the puck. I skate to where the puck is going to be." - Wayne Gretzky.

When discussing or researching technologies, people seem to have trouble keeping in mind that technology changes. This is odd, because the rapid advance of microprocessor technology is one of the most obvious trends in our society. But even researchers, who can easily chart the future progress of their own work, often compare their future performance with today's technology: "We can beat state-of-the-art lithography in just ten years," ignoring, of course, that lithography will be advancing at its accustomed pace in that time.

A response to yesterday's post claimed that I was wrong about ubiquitous networking because his laptop had trouble getting a signal from his base station. Well, I'll get right on that, and in the meantime you might take a look at the IEEE 802.16a standard, which will likely do for metropolitan area networking what 802.11b has done for local networking. Similarly, others claimed that the surveillance state couldn't happen because software isn't smart enough to monitor everyone, and there aren't enough people to do it manually. Don't skate to the puck! The software is in development. For just one example, check out everyone's favorite convicted monopolist's work MyLifeBits.

Don't believe the cameras are out there? Check out the very funny, very scary, somewhat leftist Surveillance Camera Players. Criminologist Clive Norris estimates that a citizen of London is photographed by a surveillance camera 300 times a day. If you've got a subscription to Technology Review, read Surveillance Nation, a great review of where the technology is going.

These technologies -- microcameras, wide-area wireless networking, analysis software -- are going to be developed in the next few years, even if Congress zeroed the budget on TIA. (Does anyone think that Adm. John Poindexter, of Iran-Contra fame and director of TIA, will worry overmuch about what Congress says?) Don't skate to the puck. We need to figure out what to do about the technologies before they're finished.