Big Brother

“I can see all kinds of problems coming if we bring in this new horseless carriage. They call it a car. Or an auto. Whatever they call it, it means trouble. First of all, crooks will use it. They’ll rob a bank and run off in this machine. And nobody will be able to catch them. Then there’s ...” I guess you get the gist.

All new inventions are double-edged. They can be good for us, or bad. This depends, of course, on who is using them and for what.

I thought of that this week when I read a story about some software that Microsoft is working on. It will remotely monitor a person’s physical well-being. Through wireless sensors within the computer system.

The story was written by a couple journalists who wore dark lenses and saw only evil in the software. They called it “Big-Brother-style software” in the first sentence.

The system would check employees’ performance. By measuring heart rates, body temperatures, movements, facial expressions and blood pressure.



The sensors could detect changes in the skin, brain, respiration rates, body temperature. This would tell managers if employees were suffering stress. Or goofing off. Or having sex in the Oval Office, etc.

The outlook is bleak for us. At least that is the angle these guys took. They said labor unions fear workers could get axed if the system caught them napping.

They told us various civil servants in Britain criticized the potential of the system. So did civil-liberties groups. So did privacy lawyers.

Lighten up guys. You could make the same case against the printing press. Or against television and dvds. “Why, with TV you will get people spying on each other. With video equipment people will be filming porn. And with books you will get people spreading propaganda!”

In other words, you looked at a new piece of technology. And you saw only the dark side of it. You saw only the ways it could be used for negative purposes.

Consider some of the positive uses for this technology.

Imagine how healthcare people could monitor old folks. They could detect illness before it advanced. And maybe strokes before they hit. They would detect fevers before the oldies knew what hit them.

Imagine how car drivers could be alerted when they show signs of fatigue. Or when their stress was getting out of control.

You would not have to be a senior to benefit from this type of system. Your computer could check your health in various ways whenever you sat in front of your computer. It could flash little messages: Your heart rate has picked up over the last three months. And your blood pressure is higher now than it was this time last year. Your response rate has slowed, which may indicate ...

We could use systems like this to check on our infants. They cannot tell us they don’t feel good. Or that their grumpiness is more than just teething problems. A system like this could.

Could such a system be used for evil? Of course it could. So can a hammer. Imagine if these reporters covered the invention of the wheel. “Micromagnun has patented a circular device which can be used to run over people.”

This new technology is not “Big-Brother-style” at all. Those who would use it for evil purposes would be “Big-Brotherish.” Just as those who use hidden cameras to spy on you are “Big-Brotherish.”

Seems to me we could use this sort of technology for lots of good. Maybe it will detect a health problem in someone close to me so that he can tend to it and avoid damage from it. Someone like my big brother.

From Tom ... as in Morgan.

For more columns and for Tom’s radio shows (and to write to Tom): tomasinmorgan.com.

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