index ... part two (more thoughts)

Part One

Mixing Wearables and Surveillance

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright July 2016


Wearables and surveillance are both going to flower vigorously as we move into the 2050's. Both are going to become much more sophisticated in what they can do and more pervasive in where they are found.

This essay is speculating on how the two are going to mix together to change how we live and think.



Wearables are devices that we put on or insert that monitor a body's vital signs. In the 2010's they monitor simple things like heart rate and body motion -- such as how many steps a person takes during a walking session. With time what can be monitored will grow extensively, and controlling ability will be added to monitoring ability.

Things will get surprising when the monitoring and controlling starts to include hormones and chemicals in the bloodstream and the simpler nervous signaling which affects emotions. Then wearables can be used for mind altering as well as body altering. The mind altering abilities will become powerful and subtle. One significant addition will be the speed of change. With wearables a person can get drunk or high in minutes, then sober up again equally quickly. That fast sobering up and removal of hangover problems will change mind altering social issues dramatically.


Surveillance is monitoring the numerous physical functions that are going on all around us. Smart devices will routinely report their status so that two things can happen: a) if something is failing it can be quickly fixed, and b) the devices can coordinate with each other to improve efficiency and safety.

How they will mix

Surveillance devices and wearables will both be monitoring people as part of their functionality. As an example, when a person comes into a room the pervasive surveillance devices can note that has happened and turn on lights, HVAC, and other devices the person wants to interact with. That person will be bringing their wearables into the room so the room devices and wearables can interact with each other and make life even more comfortable and convenient for the person that comes into the room.

The net result of this is that everyone in a modern environment of the 2050's is going to be constantly monitored and surveillanced in dozens of different ways all the time.

This is going to change how we live and think, and some of those ways will be surprising.

Here are a few dystopian ways that have come to my mind.

Mix in Shaming and Fear

With all this monitoring going on, privacy is going to take on a completely different meaning. What it will be, I don't know.

But that which isn't private will be subjected to a lot of critiquing by those in the community who choose to watch, and the judgments can get forceful. A 2010's example of this is the massive shaming that happens thanks to social media when someone commits a mistake that people choose to pay attention to. In addition to shaming, fearfulness is another driver for more judgmental surveillance. An example of calling for even more surveillance is using it to combat terrorism.

So a big issue of the 2050's is going to be how the results of surveillance get spread around. Related, how should emotions be controlled?

Here is an example of something that sounds neat:

o someone is thinking of pulling off a terrorist act, their wearables note the odd emotions they are experiencing as they think about this

o they gather the equipment to do it, this is noticed by pervasive surveillance

o as they get ready to commit the act, they suddenly chicken out, they get terribly fearful, this is their wearables controlling their emotions, the wearables have been controlled by an anti-terror agency

o minutes later they get picked up by the anti-terror agency and jailed for a few days or weeks while their thinking is straightened out by counseling and adjusting their wearables

o life goes on with a scary tragedy prevented

Sounds great! Sounds delightful! Sounds effective! The problem is: this is a one-in-ten-million case. What is happening in all the other cases? Nothing nearly as good sounding or effective. This solution feels so good because it is harmonizing with the instinctive fearfulness of terror. That is its only virtue.

Big Brother? Oh Brother!

This level of control described above is ultimate Big Brother. The issues here become: what else beside anti-terror will be controlled, who will be deciding what is terror, and what else will be defined as right thinking and acting?

Because the control can get so fine-grained, this can get real spooky if the consequences are not carefully thought out and good policies implemented.

Real spooky.


Wearables and pervasive surveillance are coming. They will come and become pervasive because they will be bringing such tremendous benefits.

But with those benefits will come social risks of the sorts I have outlined above -- the ease of social shaming and the ease of implementing Big Brother-style social controls.

These dystopian issues mean that we must be giving lots of thought now to how to improve our definitions of civil rights and rule of law.



--The End--

index ... part two (more thoughts)