The Null Device

Charlie Stross predicts the future

Charlie Stross attempts to extrapolate the future from current trends in computing and storage technologies, and concludes that, eventually, everything that anyone ever does will be documented, stored and accessible for all time:
10Tb is an interesting number. That's a megabit for every second in a year -- there are roughly 10 million seconds per year. That's enough to store a live DivX video stream -- compressed a lot relative to a DVD, but the same overall resolution -- of everything I look at for a year, including time I spend sleeping, or in the bathroom. Realistically, with multiplexing, it puts three or four video channels and a sound channel and other telemetry -- a heart monitor, say, a running GPS/Galileo location signal, everything I type and every mouse event I send -- onto that chip, while I'm awake. All the time. It's a life log; replay it and you've got a journal file for my life. Ten euros a year in 2027, or maybe a thousand euros a year in 2017.
Our concept of privacy relies on the fact that it's hard to discover information about other people. Today, you've all got private lives that are not open to me. Even those of you with blogs, or even lifelogs. But we're already seeing some interesting tendencies in the area of attitudes to privacy on the internet among young people, under about 25; if they've grown up with the internet they have no expectation of being able to conceal information about themselves. They seem to work on the assumption that anything that is known about them will turn up on the net sooner or later, at which point it is trivially searchable.
The political hazards of lifelogging are, or should be, semi-obvious. In the short term, we're going to have to learn to do without a lot of bad laws. If it's an offense to pick your nose in public, someone, sooner or later, will write a 'bot to hunt down nose-pickers and refer them to the police. Or people who put the wrong type of rubbish in the recycling bags. Or cross the road without using a pedestrian crossing, when there's no traffic about. If you dig hard enough, everyone is a criminal. In the UK, today, there are only about four million public CCTV surveillance cameras; I'm asking myself, what is life going to be like when there are, say, four hundred million of them? And everything they see is recorded and retained forever, and can be searched retroactively for wrong-doing.
This century we're going to learn a lesson about what it means to be unable to forget anything. And it's going to go on, and on. Barring a catastrophic universal collapse of human civilization -- which I should note was widely predicted from August 1945 onward, and hasn't happened yet -- we're going to be laying down memories in diamond that will outlast our bones, and our civilizations, and our languages. Sixty kilograms will handily sum up the total history of the human species, up to the year 2000. From then on ... we still don't need much storage, in bulk or mass terms. There's no reason not to massively replicate it and ensure that it survives into the deep future.
And with ubiquitous lifelogs, and the internet, and attempts at providing a unified interface to all interesting information -- wikipedia, let's say -- we're going to give future historians a chance to build an annotated, comprehensive history of the entire human race. Charting the relationships and interactions between everyone who's ever lived since the dawn of history -- or at least, the dawn of the new kind of history that is about to be born this century.
And as a footnote, we will soon have driverless cars, after which human-driven cars will be banned (after all, driver error causes most accidents), and a whole host of social changes as the nature of personal transport is changed.

There are 1 comments on "Charlie Stross predicts the future":

Posted by: toby Mon May 14 01:41:25 2007

I'll start to worry/be interested when computers can autonomously do something useful with video. Wake me up when that happens...

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