Digital Woes

Digital Woes
Smartphones, self-driving cars, fake news, identity theft, cyberstalking, revenge porn… it was all in the future once.

Now the music industry's toast, publishing's in turmoil, people get their news from their Facebook Daily Me… even the NSA's been hacked. But what really worries me is what's coming:

— Why bother with gun control laws when we'll soon have home 3D printers? Throw in a wiki or two dedicated to Everyman's freedom to own an arsenal, and the whole idea of gun control becomes a sick joke.

— As if our obsession with smartphones and tablets haven't trashed our relationships enough, we may all soon find ourselves competing with wearable devices for a moment of actual precious eye contact with those we love.

— You can already buy miniaturized spy gear; GPS navigation, long-range control, and live video streaming are all well established. When drones the size of dragonflies become cheap and ubiquitous, then, as the late great Isaac Asimov once wrote, welcome to the goldfish bowl.

— If the Internet of Hackable Things doesn't get us there first.

— The smell of money lured the FAA to permit drones; the same aroma is tempting car manufacturers, Google, and others to insist that self-driving cars are ready for field-testing. Forgive me if I feel some doubt. They're neglecting to mention one key point: the work they've done so far—developing the software to interpret the sensors, guide and control the car—that's the easy part. Which is not to say that it's easy. But. The hard part's going to be integrating these systems into the real world, with its thunderstorms and loads of spilled hay and oblivious humans driving 1968 Volkswagens and kids chasing balls out into the street and bicyclists running stop signs and drunks and speeders and hastily scheduled roadwork. And plans to network all the cars and traffic signals together make the whole thing vulnerable to random interference and malicious hackers. All this is far from ready.

— Yes, self-driving cars would be a blessing for many: the blind, the elderly, people trapped in long commutes… not to mention surveillance and law enforcement. "I'm sorry" says your car as it exits the freeway, "but your destination is now in a secure area. Access denied."

I really should write Digital Woes 2.0. But it's all so depressing…