The dark side of technology part 2: The Geeks Strike back

Posted by Flux on 

3 September 2013


Recommended reading written by Dion Chang for City Press

A few weeks back I wrote about a concerning trend that is emerging: the potential for people to use technology’s “dark side”. As new technologies evolve, their trajectories shift and change almost on a daily basis. Boundaries are untested, and as a result, we find ourselves at a fork in the road. We are discovering that we can use these new technologies for good, as well as evil. For example, the threat to personal privacy – or copyright issues – that Google glass will bring, or the fact that as cars become more and more like sophisticated computers, hacking into someone’s breaking system becomes a very real security concern.

Since I used the Star Wars analogy of being lured to technology’s dark side, and am please to report that just like the second Star Wars movie – The Empire Strikes Back – I’ve discovered that there are geeks out there who are ensuring that we also have preventative measures in place to combat those wanting to use technology’s dark side.  For every action there is a reaction, and the following reactions should appease the most neurotic technophobe.

In the column I wrote about the threat of drones: those unmanned flying machines that are delivering beer at music festivals, but also used by the American government to spy on it’s own citizens. However, if technology is the fastest driver of change, then fashion has always been regarded as the second fastest driver of change, so its no surprise that a fashion designer has come up with the perfect foil to probing drones.

Drones use thermal imaging to detect people on the ground, so Adam Harvey – a designer/artist based in New York – has launched a clothing line called  “Stealth Wear”, which includes an “anti-drone hoodie”. This hooded top uses a metalised material designed to counter thermal imaging. Its effect would be a bit like Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, only more hip and urban. The only area that may still be left vulnerable would be your face, but on the other side of the planet, a Japanese designer is already thinking about that potential problem.

Facial recognition scanners are already in use, on social media platforms and very soon in a retail outlet at your favourite mall. In the not too distant future your face will be scanned as you walk into a shop. The store’s software will rifle through your social media database and search for your likes and dislikes, so that by the time a shop assistant greets you, he or she will know what your preferences are, and fast track your shopping experience. To combat this, the Japan’s National Institute of Informatics has invented the world’s first “privacy visor”. It makes you look somewhat like a robotic cyborg, with flashing lights that strobe across a clear Perspex visor, but then, in the future you might just forgo vanity for a bit of privacy.

For celebrities who already crave privacy, a solution has already been found to counteract those pesky paparazzi hounds. The anti-paparazzi handbag is now also available from artist/designer Adam Harvey. This ingenious handbag is light sensitive and will sense a camera flash. At the very same time it detects a flash, it emits it’s own powerful flash, which essentially destroys the paparazzo’s precious shot. No more stealth photography.

In the realm of banking and transacting, technology is also moving too fast for most people’s comfort. Not only will our smart phones soon house all our credit card information, but NFC (near field communication) technology will enable us to simply tap or swipe our phones on or over a receptor, for us to make a payment. However, before we get to that stage, many credit cards are already RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) enabled. This means that instead of having to swipe your credit card through a machine, as we do now, you will just need to wave our cards near a reader to complete a transaction. RFID is also being embedded into passports and will be used by passport control officers to speed up border crossings. The dark side to this technology is that anyone with a reader could walk past you and scan your wallet or handbag without your knowledge and not only steal your credit card details, but also steal your ID. But fear not. The good geeks are on the offensive already.

Identity Stronghold, a company in the USA already produces a range of wallets and purses that provide protection against payment fraud and identity theft. Their Secure Wallet™ will block any scanning frequency and ensure your credit cards, or passports, are safe from techno savvy criminals. Unfortunately, this type of techno crime is already a reality.

So while the proponents of technology’s dark side will keep the conspiracy theorists awake at night, you can rest assured that there are an equal number of Jedi geeks out there who are thinking ahead and closing those cyber loopholes. As I said before, we are entering an era of testing technology’s boundaries. Anything can happen. May the force be with you.

By: Dion Chang

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