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 What Would Joe Do?
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at www.aycinena.com. She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.

Invasive, Freaky, Leading-edge: The Shock of the New circa 2015

 
February 26th, 2015 by Peggy Aycinena

Art Critic Robert Hughes produced a difficult documentary in 1980 that assaulted the mind and eye with images and ideas associated with modern art, the visual arts of the 20th century. Now 35 years later and well into the 21st century, Hughes’ concept of things that are both new and shocking is more compelling than ever. This little essay is peppered with a few things which I think encapsulate The Shock of the New circa 2015.

Let’s start with the upcoming Trip to Mars. Last month it was announced that 100 people had been chosen from a field of 200,000 candidates worldwide to start to prepare for a one-way trip to Mars, slated to launch in 2024. Come’on, really? A one-way trip to Mars? It may sound like a way-cool nod to someone’s pluck and courage to be chosen for the trip, not to mention the technological tour de force needed to get the vehicle and passengers there — but do we honestly want to admire anybody whose death wish includes a long freaky trip to a planet that cannot support any of the life forms we’re aware of, including us? Really?

Then there’s the Implantable RFID. In at least one commercial complex in Stockholm, volunteers can have an RFID injected subcutaneously and then use it going forward for an easy-to-use, not-easy-to-lose type of ID and key. How much easier to just hold up a digitally labeled hand to unlock a door or gain access to a secure device, than to have to go to all of the trouble of producing a key, a swipable badge, or a password. Come’on, really? Surely you’re joking. An invasive procedure in lieu of a wallet? Pretty freaky, not to mention that this RFID also opens a veritable Pandora’s box of libertarian strum und drang.

So then, how about everybody’s favorite, legally mandated watchdog: The Traffic Cam. A squalid and invasive little device that hovers unblinkingly over so many intersections of life, surgically waiting for you and your car to be a little too much over this line, or a little too much over that, a little too early going forward or a little too late going back. Sure, these nasty one-eyed monsters have produced a boat-load of revenue for hard-pressed city governments, and possibly given pause to a careless driver here or there, but over all, they’ve become the poster child of invasive, freaky and leading-edge. And as such, have been disassembled and discarded by municipalities near and far overwhelmed with cries of ‘Foul play!’ from their citizenry.

Speaking of driving, how about the Self-driving Car. Yes, everybody wants to take this integration of software, hardware, firmware, middleware, sensors, IoT-connectivity and tech-chic, and make it into something to yearn for. But do we really want this? Do we all really want to wrap our poor corporal selves into a hard exo-skeleton that overrides all of our motor skills and decisions, so we can each travel to our destination by speaking a command and leaving the driving to “It”. Really? What happens if “It” gets it wrong, is hacked, has a glitch, or godforbid a coding error. Over-ride! Over-ride! Over-ride! Yeah, leading-edge: Just ask every keynoter in Silicon Valley. But invasive? Yeah. Freaky? Definitely.

magritteAnd finally, there is The Drone. Some strange robotic instantiation of control system meets avionics meets pitch-roll-yaw meets actuator meets rotor meets hobbyist meets voyeur. Do we really want drones buzzing all around us, hovering behind every bush, zipping onto and back off of the porch delivering payloads, taking photos from all angles at all times of the day and night, gumming up the air around us and the sky above? Yeah, really? You think we do? Well I’m just saying, think about it. If Shock of The New circa 2015 includes a class of things that are invasive and freaky, but also leading-edge, your friend The Drone definitely goes right to the head of the class.

One-way interplanetary travel. Implantable RFIDs. Traffic cams. Self-driving cars. Drones.

Hmm. Modern life. Pretty freaky.

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