One of the realities that the characters in The Lightstream Chronicles have come to accept as a mundane part of everyday life is the matter of ubiquitous surveillance. The mesh, as it is known, enables visual monitoring of every citizen during every moment of the day, home, work, recreation, etc. What we would consider our most private moments are no longer truly private. AI monitors the digital mesh impressions for irregularities, threats, suspicious behavior, and danger. Through chipset identification (everyone has a chipset), persons, synthetics, even animals are identified, and GPS located so that the AI knows at whom it is looking. Then decades of big data analyze gestures, behaviors, voice patterns, and permissions (who is allowed to be where) to determine that all is well, or not so well.
If things are not well, a voice will chime in from one of your active surfaces to alert you to sudden danger or tell you to remain where you are until authorities or help arrive.
After many years of this level of surveillance, the citizenry has become used to the idea. The public’s initial reticence was assuaged by the idea that humans are not watching. Over the years, for most, it has become commonplace to the extent that few ever think about it, some find it reassuring, and others find it titillating. The AI knows when you wake up, go to sleep, have sex, bathe, eat, and everything else that is part of your day. As long as you and those around you obey the laws the AI doesn’t intervene.
Personal assistants are a different story. Personal assistants that take the form of synthetic humans, animals, or merely a disembodied voice, can speak audibly or telepathically and serve a different function. This kind of AI knows everything about you at a personal level, personal motivations, hopes and fears, aspirations, daily health and disposition. These AI are helpers, as opposed to observers. In the event of danger or a legal breach, those observing take precedence.
Of course this is fiction, but it is also design fiction, so whatever future I have incorporated into the story, it is my task to provide plausible connection to some existing technology today. There are thousands of examples of ubiquitous surveillance, and they are increasing daily. The personal assistant concept is well on its way. But a news article this week in The Verge about a company called Proteus Digital Health brings the idea of the chipset even closer to reality.
According to Proteus,
“Our products and services provide patients with meaningful health information to help manage their condition and provide physicians unprecedented insight into patient medication-taking and daily health habits.”
Call this the digital pill, the medical version of the insurance tracking device that monitor one’s driving habits. Drive safely and you get lower insurance rates. With the Proteus digital pill system, it’s not that easy to opt out. According to the article,
“Buried inside the pill is a sand-sized grain, one-millimeter square and a third of a millimeter thick, made from copper, magnesium, and silicon. When the pill reaches your stomach, your stomach acids form a circuit…The signal travels as far as a patch stuck to your skin near the navel, which verifies the signal, then transmits it wirelessly to your smartphone, which passes it along to your doctor. There’s now a verifiable record that the pill reached your stomach.”
Clever. Except when it becomes mandatory that you take whatever your doctor prescribes, or your insurance rate goes up. Hmm. I think this is a bad idea, but somehow I sense the insurance companies will love it, and big Pharma even more. A few years ago I was prescribed statins for cholesterol. Today there is a great deal of information available on how bad statins can be for you, and how cholesterol is not the villain that they once thought it was. Fortunately, I got wise to the potential adverse effects of statins and “took myself off of them”. Using a combination of supplements and changes in diet, I brought my cholesterol to healthy levels without drugs. But what if taking myself off of the drug was not an option, at least not an option without an expensive penalty? How long before this method is applied to pain-killers, vaccinations, or food and drink choices?
“Good morning Mr. Smith, this is the government. We noticed that you did not medicate yourself this morning. By not taking your medication, big data shows that you have a 62% chance of becoming a burden to the state. This is your first reminder…”
What do you think?