Tag Archives: paranoia

Kinect: the Big Brother peripheral?

Concerns begin to arise around the capabilities of Microsoft’s Kinect controller – what exactly are you allowing into your front room [via MonkeyFilter]?

On Thursday, Microsoft Vice President Dennis Durkin told the BMO Digital Entertainment Investor Conference in New York that Kinect offers “a really interesting opportunity” to target content and ads based on who is playing, and to send data back to advertisers.

“When you stand in front of it,” he said, according to news reports, “it has face recognition, voice recognition,” and “we can cater what content gets presented to you based on who you are.” Your wife, Durkin added, could see a different set of content choices than you do, and this can include advertising.

The advertiser will also know, he said, “how many people are in a room when an advertisement is shown,” or when a game is played. He said the system, and therefore advertisers, can also know how many people are engaged with a game or a sporting event, if they are standing up and excited — even if they are wearing Seahawks or Giants jerseys.

We’ve heard about these sorts of capability before, but not in such affordable and desirable household consumer electronics items as the Kinect. Microsoft would like to assuage any concerns, however:

Apparently as a result of Durkin’s remarks, Microsoft issued a statement Thursday that neither its Xbox 360 video-game controller nor Xbox Live “use any information captured by Kinect for advertising targeting purposes.”

The instinctively paranoid and mistrustful might find themselves appending a “… yet!” onto the end of that statement. And long-time Microsoft haterz will get a wry chuckle out of this follow-up:

The company added that it has a strong track record “for implementing some of the best privacy-protection measures in the industry.”

Erm, right.

Anyway, the Kinect (much like the similar devices which will doubtless follow hot on its heels) isn’t inherently nasty… but it does have the capability to be misused in Orwellian ways. Which is why I’m always glad to see clever hacker types reverse-engineering drivers for proprietary hardware; knowledge is power.

Because we don’t have enough sources of terrorism false-positives already

Psychology boffins at Northwest University reckon they can detect “guilty knowledge” with 100% accuracy using scans of P300 brainwaves. Haven’t we reached a point where we should just abolish all modes of collective transportation, close down all buildings and spaces to which the general public have access, and oblige everyone to walk around naked with their ID tattooed onto their foreheads? After all, we’ve handed terrorists most of the victory they wanted by means of our descent into technology-mitigated paranoia, so why not just disassemble civilisation totally and treat everyone as a potential enemy? Better we destroy the freedom “the terrorists” hate so much than let them do it for us, AMIRITE?

Paranoia bonus: for those Statesiders feeling smug about not living in camera-infested Orwellian Britain, GizMag rounds up a few loophole-exploiting surveillance schemes that your own government is using to keep an eye on you. Don’t you feel safer now?

Merry Christmas; I got you a panopticon

Two quick links; I’ll leave you to do the math yourself. First up – ‘smart’ CCTV system learns to spot suspicious behaviour with a little help from its human operators:

… a next-generation CCTV system, called Samurai, which is capable of identifying and tracking individuals that act suspiciously in crowded public spaces. It uses algorithms to profile people’s behaviour, learning about how people usually behave in the environments where it is deployed. It can also take changes in lighting conditions into account, enabling it to track people as they move from one camera’s viewing field to another.


Samurai is designed to issue alerts when it detects behaviour that differs from the norm, and adjusts its reasoning based on feedback. So an operator might reassure the system that the person with a mop appearing to loiter in a busy thoroughfare is no threat. When another person with a mop exhibits similar behaviour, it will remember that this is not a situation that needs flagging up.

And secondly – a facial recognition door lock system retailing for under UK£300.

… can store and register up to 500 faces thanks to an internal dual sensor and two cameras. This, claims the manufacturer, “allows it to establish an incredible facial recognition algorithm in a fraction of a second”. Importantly, the system also works at night. A 3.5 inch screen and touch keypad are also included.

The system can also be used to record attendance in an office. There’s a USB and Ethernet port so that managers can download or keep track of who arrives and leaves the office when.

I have the sudden urge to talk at length to people about the findings of the Stanford Prison Experiment.

Better living through chemistry – lithium, for a saner society

water tapsI like to think I’m mostly over my twenty-something’s obsession with conspiracy theories and government-as-competent-ubiquitous-control-system paranoia… but stories like this still hold the power to make me start thinking about where I left the tin-foil. You see, it turns out that populations who drink tap water that contains lithium are statistically less inclined to suicide; so, why don’t we engineer a happier society by giving everyone lithium?

High doses of lithium are already used to treat serious mood disorders.

But the team from the universities of Oita and Hiroshima found that even relatively low levels appeared to have a positive impact of suicide rates.

Levels ranged from 0.7 to 59 micrograms per litre. The researchers speculated that while these levels were low, there may be a cumulative protective effect on the brain from years of drinking this tap water.

At least one previous study has suggested an association between lithium in tap water and suicide. That research on data collected from the 1980s also found a significantly lower rate of suicide in areas with relatively high lithium levels.

A spokesperson from a mental health charity points out that:

“… lithium also has significant and an unpleasant side effects in higher doses, and can be toxic. Any suggestion that it should be added, even in tiny amounts, to drinking water should be treated with caution and researched very thoroughly.”

Or perhaps simply deployed on the quiet for the good of the nation; after all, if you wait until after the lithium has been soaking into the population to tell them about, they’re less likely to get upset about it. It’s all for their own good, poor lambs; best to shelter them from the miseries of reality as completely as possible. Think of it as a method of extending governance beyond its traditional border – the oh-so-intransigent skull.

Yeah, I know, there’s probably no Western government that could get away with it… but you can’t try to tell me there aren’t certain elements in the halls of power who’d find it a very appealing prospect nonetheless. [via Jamais Cascio on Twitter; image by koshyk]

O NOES teh webz iz infantilizin yr brainz (yes, again)

A bearded man infantilizing himself yesterdayIf you’re anything like me, you’ve probably never heard of Lady Greenfield, professor of synaptic pharmacology at Lincoln College, Oxford, and director of the Royal Institution. But Lady Greenfield knows all about you, and how your use of social networking sites and computer games is contributing to the ongoing infantilization of the 21st Century psyche:

Arguing that social network sites are putting attention span in jeopardy, she said: “If the young brain is exposed from the outset to a world of fast action and reaction, of instant new screen images flashing up with the press of a key, such rapid interchange might accustom the brain to operate over such timescales. Perhaps when in the real world such responses are not immediately forthcoming, we will see such behaviours and call them attention-deficit disorder.

“It might be helpful to investigate whether the near total submersion of our culture in screen technologies over the last decade might in some way be linked to the threefold increase over this period in prescriptions for methylphenidate, the drug prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.”

[Emphasis mine – try playing the same game with the whole of Lady Greenfield’s output, kids! Should keep your attention for twenty seconds at least.]

Will no one think of the children? God only knows that when a generation grows up with things that its elders didn’t have, the fate of the human race is bound to take a turn for the worse. Just look at the pernicious long-term effects of the printing press, the germ theory of medicine, radio and popular music, and (of course) television… [image by jmr_photo]

It’s unfortunate that we’re so hard-wired for fearing change – no new technology has managed to erase that little character trait yet, it seems. As always, the TechDirt boys do a great job of shredding this week’s sensationalist backlash against Twitter:

It’s pretty clear that none of these folks have ever really used Twitter — because they all seem to interpret it as being a broadcast mechanism, rather than a conversational one. This isn’t to say that Twitter is right for everyone, but most of the people who find value in it, find value in the conversational aspect of it, not that it “broadcasts” mundane facts of their lives. […] There are still plenty of people who hate Twitter, but it’s difficult to take seriously people complaining about it when it seems quite clear they’ve never even bothered to use it.

Quite – now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to post a few naked pictures of myself to Lady Greenfield’s MySpace page. LOLZ