Three views of the future that are certain to curl your hair
"In the future...."
The phrase that once seemed so full of promise is now filled with foreboding.
According to Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times in a January 28, 2015, article, work is becoming Uberized: your schedule is flexible, but you've got no job security, you get paid less, and you have no idea where your next job will come from.
According to Alistair Croll in a February 20, 2015, post on the Solving for Everything blog (reprinted on O'Reilly Radar on March 3, 2015), your Fifth Amendment rights are going to have to be extended to your personal agent, which will maintain a total-recall timeline of your entire life. And anyone who doesn't create such a timeline will be at a disadvantage -- the people they interact with will know more about them than they know about themselves.
According to University of Jerusalem history professor Yoval Noah Harari in a conversation with author Daniel Kahnemann published in a March 9, 2015, post on Edge, in 50 to 100 years, rich people may have the option not to die. Yep, if you got the bucks, death will be optional.
What if you're not rich? Well, the rich won't need you anymore to grow their food and fight their wars (or buy their products), so you're out of luck. In fact, you may not even have access to medicine, according to Harari.
On the bright side, you won't have to worry about retirement from your Uberized work or care about what your personal agent may or may not disclose about you.
The on-demand economy is 21st century serfdom
When you drive for Uber as an independent contractor, you interact with an algorithm, not a human. As NYT's Manjoo points out, most Uber drivers have other jobs and drive in their "personal time." University of California, Berkeley, economist Robert Reich asks what effect "monetized downtime" will have on families, relationships, and social lives.
While the unemployment rate is low, real wages have been stagnant for 40 years, according to a January 18, 2014, article in The Economist. During the Industrial Revolution, machines replaced manual labor. In the Information Revolution, machines are replacing "brain-work," according to The Economist.
George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen sees a bright job outlook only for "a small group of workers with skills highly complementary with machine intelligence." Everyone else is out of luck. Professions expected to be automated in coming years include real estate agents, retail salespersons, technical writers, and accountants.
Some prognosticators see a jobless future. In a July 21, 2014, article in the Washington Post, Vivek Wadhwa quotes Autodesk CEO Carl Bell describing the factory of the future as having two employees: a man and a dog. "The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment."
Technology evangelist Ray Kurzweil states that luddites have always predicted that technology would reduce the number of jobs when in fact it has always created new jobs that can't be predicted until the technology takes hold. Wadhwa concludes by stating the long-term future is uncertain, so governments don't know how to prepare for it.
One possible future is a world where nearly everyone is an independent contractor hustling for piecework at all hours. As Reich point out, nearly all the independent contractors he's talked to would much rather have a regular job -- with regular hours, regular pay, and regular benefits.
Your personal data may already be locked behind GAFA walled gardens
Think about where you spend your digital life. It's likely that four services account for a large percentage of it: Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon. Where's your email? Your files? Your music? Your online social life? Your online purchases (and maybe sales)?
Now think about how you would extract that data, perhaps as part of a switch to a competing service. Not so easy. Croll refers to media as the "gateway drug to a walled garden: your content is locked in, and the barriers to entry are simply too huge to leave." In the future, your medical history, banking information, and home security may be walled off in the same way.
In the next several years, the digital breadcrumbs of our lives will be consolidated into a complete record of our thoughts, words, and deeds, according to Croll. It's possible -- and perhaps likely -- that the keepers of this personal information will know more about us than we know about ourselves. After all, the data-keepers will have a broader context for understanding and acting on the data because they'll have similar alpha-omega dossiers on everyone else.
That's why some privacy advocates are calling for an annual "privacy return" similar to a tax return that discloses everything the data collectors know about us. Among the dangers to individuals of total data recall are the inability to hide, the possibility of having our lives hijacked, the potential of being manipulated by super-pattern recognizers, the loss of personalization when machines handle such human interactions as birthday greetings, and the inability to reinvent ourselves by escaping from our pasts.
Taking the data collection a step further, our personal agent will become our alter ego, according to Croll. Will this complete digital record be afforded the same rights and privileges we enjoy as individuals? Will the personal agent be allowed to plead the Fifth on our behalf?
Finally, Croll reminds us that technology isn't implemented uniformly, so there will always be some people who are left behind. Will they be at an unfair disadvantage when it comes to exercising their rights and privileges in a digital society?
The masses are losing their military and economic value
The scariest of the futurist scenarios I've seen is described by historian Harari in his conversation with Kahneman. Harari claims the field of medicine has changed from the egalitarian goal of healing the sick to the elitist goal of upgrading the healthy. In the past, medical advances benefited the rich first and then trickled down to the poor. Examples are antibiotics and vaccinations. However, the medical advances of the 21st century may never find their way to poor people.
Why? Because the masses have lost their power. In the past, the rich needed the masses to fight their wars and grow their food. In the future, wars and agriculture will be automated. So if poor people have no military or economic value, why bother supplying them with medicine?
What happens when the computer-human interface is perfected and life makes the leap from organic to inorganic? As Harari and Kahneman put it, death becomes optional -- if you have enough money. That's the moment of Singularity, and at that point, all bets are off. Harari predicts that one of the great challenges of the coming century will be "what to do with all these useless people."
His best guess? "[A] combination of drugs and computer games."
But perhaps all is not lost for us members of the masses. Harari claims that a consequence of the industrial revolution was that "the state and the market" took over many of the roles traditionally handled by families and small communities. In the Agricultural Age, your children were your pension; your family and "intimate community" were "your bank, your school, your police, everything."
If the state and market abrogate the agreement to be our caretakers, we have only our families and communities to rely on once again. Perhaps the future is one of small, self-sustaining communities -- extended families -- linked in the Internet model of "small pieces, loosely joined."
The fatal flaw in the Obama Administration's Privacy Bill of Rights
Last week's Weekly pointed out that the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights proposed by the Obama Administration has little chance of being voted on, let alone enacted. In fact, the bill was proposed as a discussion draft, and as such it has succeeded in raising several important matters relating to our privacy rights.
As Center for Digital Democracy executive director Jeffrey Chester explains in a March 5, 2015, post on AlterNet, the proposal leaves control over the collection and management of our personal data to the companies that are doing the collecting. The big industry players would take the lead role in creating self-regulatory "codes of conduct" governing data collection and privacy.
The bill would also remove Federal Trade Commission oversight of companies collecting and maintaining our personal information. Even with the lack of any kind of true regulation in the bill, the Internet Association lobbying group representing Google, Facebook, Amazon, and other data-collecting companies oppose it -- and any other attempt by the government to encumber their data-collecting operations.
Customize your iPhone alerts, monitor bank accounts for fraud attempts
Nonstop phone notifications can drive you bonkers. (I described how to silence them in a November 19, 2012, article on CNET.) A free iPhone app called Hooks lets you customize your notifications based on the triggers of your choice. Tech Crunch's Steve O'Hear offers a primer on using Hooks in a March 4, 2015, article.
Hooks presents you with a directory of 100 "channels" from which you can choose to be alerted about news, sports scores, weather, stock prices, travel information, even tweets and YouTube videos posted by specific people. Note that while the app is currently free, the developers may ultimately charge users to receive business-related alerts.
Of course, there are times when you definitely want to be notified. One of those times is when your bank account, or the account of a person you care for, has been targeted by fraudsters. For $5 a month, the EverSafe service monitors the bank account of your choice to detect potential fraudulent charges. The service doesn't block the transactions it identifies as possible scams, nor can it make any changes to the accounts it monitors.
What EverSafe can do is give you a heads-up about suspicious charges in time for you to take action to block or reverse them, if necessary. Lifehacker's Dave Greenbaum describes how EverSafe works in a March 7, 2015, post.
Facebook guidelines for employers
The chances are pretty good your employees are using Facebook to discuss work-related matters. Nearly every company has devised guidelines for employee use of social media. How do you know whether your company's guidelines could run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act?
As Desiree Busching and Lauren Helen Leyden of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP explain in a March 6, 2015, post on JD Supra Business Advisor, the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that certain common social-media policies violate the NLRA. These include prohibitions against employees posting comments related to their employers or coworkers, and overbroad definitions of what constitutes "confidential information."
In general, employees can't be prevented from discussing their "terms and conditions of employment." Also protected are complaints about workplace policies, and comments about disagreements with supervisors. The authors recommend that a company's social-media policy include specific examples of the type of information and conduct that is not allowed, and that it avoid any language that could be construed as infringing on employees' right to "engage in concerted activity."
Forget protecting the network. Focus on protecting the data
With the rise of mobile devices and ubiquitous connectivity, it has become nearly impossible to determine where an organization's network ends. This has rendered network-based security plans futile: you simply can't completely lock down any network.
As an alternative, security is now focusing on the data rather than the pathways to the data. Encrypting sensitive data is a more effective approach to preventing loss than trying to control access to the network the data is stored on. Secure Islands cofounder Yuval Eldar highlights a secondary benefit of a data-centric approach to security: it returns control over data access to IT departments. Eldar explains the benefits of data-level security in a March 5, 2015, article on Forbes.
Eldar distinguishes four categories of data in an organization: public, internal, confidential, and secret. Rather than allowing end users to categorize the information they're sending within and without the organization, IT departments would be charged with automating the classification by assigning it when and where the data is stored -- before it has been shared.
Automatic encryption of a company's sensitive information would also address the main source of data loss: theft of laptops and mobile phones. According to a survey of IT professionals conducted by Sungard Availability Services, employees leaving laptops and mobile phones unprotected is their biggest single problem. The survey results are discussed by Forbes' Asher DeMetz in a March 5, 2015, article.
The best way to prevent data loss in such situations is to encrypt the laptop's hard drive. Other preventive measures are to enforce strong passwords, freeze the affected employee's account, and use tracking software so you can alert law enforcement as to the stolen device's whereabouts.