The Digifuture in Its Parts

How time flies, said Fred with scintillating originality. When I was a young lad in rural Virginia in the mid-Sixties, the only thing digital was the local drive-in movie, known colloquially as the Finger bowl. Now the world runneth over with bits and bytes and screens and all. Regarding which:

Much of the unpleasantness of life springs from the need to identify ourselves. To this end we have driver’s licenses, passports, ID , and credit cards.

None of this is really necessary. Let us assume hypothetically that face recognition is infallible. It isn’t, quite, but let us pretend. We would then not need a driver’s license: The cop would scan your face and your license, if any, would pop up on his screen. No passport either: Coming into America the camera would scan your face and all your passport info would pop up.  To fly, you would not need a ticket or need to check in: The system would scan your face and know you had a ticket for UAL 3325 to Chengdu

Actually face recognition is not quite perfect, so to get admission to the CIA’s  murder records you might need an additional scan of iris or fingerprints, which would leave no doubt. This latter is now used at air ports: “Put your fingers on the glass….”

All of these technologies are well known and work in practice. China uses face recognition, in which it is the world leader, for practically everything.

Making ID-less life run smoothly and efficiently would require considerable programming but no new technology. Government could have a record for every citizen with everything from passport to medical records, each being accessible only to entities needing them. For example, a hospital could see your med recs but not your driver’s license or credit-card transactions. Things of this sort are already done in various countries. They just haven’t been glued together, except largely in China.

The convenience would make this a fairly easy sell to the public. No fumbling with cards,  proof of insurance, redundant medical tests. In priciple people fear surveillance, but in practice they will go with convenience every time.

Now, the digital dollar. It is coming. Officials of the government and of the Federal Reserve seem to talk out of both sides of their mouths, but they are considering it, as are the central banks of over a hundred countries. It will probably be introduced gradually, maybe first for transactions between banks, then as an option for the public. But it is coming. Watch. The aim, probably not stated, will be to go cashless, as China has said it wants to do, with transactions made by cellphone, as is already almost universal in China. It will be convenient.

The digidollar software necessarily will also make a record of every transaction: time, place, amount, and to whom made. This sounds shocking, but isn’t much different from records made by credit-card companies and banks. Somehow this sounds less ominous than the feds having them, though it can get them if it wants.

Some interesting effects will flow from cashlessness. Robbery will become difficult. If I put a gun to your head and demand your money, you will probably give me your dough, phone to phone, rather than have your head blown off. But the system will make a record of who I am, the time, place, and amount, which is not optimal for those in the robbery business. When you report the crime, the system will take the money back out of my phone, give it to you, and close my account. I will not be able to open a new account because doing so involves face recognition and I will be blacklisted–and therefore unable, in any way, to get money in a cashless world.

The drug problem would end in about three days. AI routines would have no problem noticing multiple sales in known drug markets of fifty dollars, or whatever a hit of coke or fentanyl costs. It would be easy to check the identity of the recipients with police records of known dealers. There would be no need to arrest them. Just block their accounts and put a note on their screens telling them that if they want access to money again, they need to come into the police station.

All in good fun. But government could–would–use the same techniques to track and control people it didn’t like, such as people name Fred who say not nice things about said government.

There is little doubt that Washington would use the digidollar for purposes of social control, potentially aabsolute. “Washington” of course means Google, Facebook, the media, Wikipedia, and all the other de facto parts of government. Already people and websites that say bad things have their credit cards cancelled, find themselves delisted by  Google, banned by Facebook, erased from the Wikipedia, and ejected from YouTube. There is much of this, though I suspect that most of the public is unaware of it.

The digidollar would provide a censoric meat axe that would–will–strike fear into dissidents. What remedy would there be? The victim would have to depend on friends even to eat while any drawn-out appeal went on. This sounds, I know. like right-wing paranoia. How it would be used and to what extent I don’t know, but recent history is not encouraging, and the mere possibility would argue for obedience.

Note that we live in a wired world. We all have cell phones. Mine is an iPhone, which has Siri as digital assistant. She is a good listener. She can be half a room away, or in my pocket, or in a noisy restaurant but when I say, “Hey Siri, what time is it?” she almost always understands. Those who have iPhones but do not use Siri have no way of knowing whether the microphone is on. Presumably, likewise with Android.

The Alexa boxes in our house understand both English and Spanish well and sometimes rooms away. I don’t know what policies Apple and Amazon have towrd eavesdropping, whether they do this when the feds want it, but they assuredly can.  The bottom line is that millions of homes host high-grade listening devices inserted with the best of motives–making music available–just as password managers, also with the best of motives, extract our passwords.  In grade school I was taught that sharing is a good thing. I wonder.

OK, that’s it for today. A tentacle is coming out of my Alexa box and seems to be reaching for my throat. Maybe it was something I said.

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Comments 21

  • Social control will indeed follow. Online addictions are not much different than Fentanyl or any other addictive substance. When we get “likes” on social media, social recognition, or attention, the neural regions of our brain, such as the Ventral Tegmental Areaour, increase the release of dopamine, giving us euphoria. Children/teens spend an average of 7 hours and 22 minutes per day, 43% of their waking hours, getting high on this drug.

    We know what happens when a large population becomes addicted to drugs. During the late 1800s, the British (the British East India Company) got rich supplying China with opium. Some estimates say 90 million of the China’s 300 million people were addicted to it. People stopped working. Families fell apart. Social disorder prevailed. It left China defenseless against a Japanese takeover and it destroy several generations of Chinese afterwards, until the brutality of communism ended it for good. We are going to see similar social controls, as disorder is taking over our nation. Fred described those social control to the T.

    Incidentally, .. China inadvertently got its revenge. To pay for the opium, they supplied Britain with tea. The British preferred the tea bright green, so the Chinese complied by coloring with a bright green dye derived from an arsenic chemical. The British were poisoning the Chinese with Opium, while the Chinese returned the favor by poisoning the British with arsenic.

    • That’s a good comment but the Chinese are still poisoning everybody. There is little or no regulation and they can afford all kinds of chemicals from pesticides to anti-biotics. There should be on-site inspectors from importing governments but they look the other way.

      To give an example: Farmers will feed their pigs arensic before they are weighed and slaughtered. The arsenic causes the animals to swell up and gain weight which means more money for the farmer. There are hundreds of other ways food from China is contaminated – and how much is part of processed food is anyone’s guess.

    • “Melamine is an industrial chemical used in the manufacture of plastic, including kitchen products, countertops, and floor tiles. When ingested, it can crystallize and cause kidney stones and, ultimately, kidney damage and kidney failure. Pet foods made with melamine-tainted wheat gluten imported from China into the United States were linked to the hundreds of pet deaths in 2006 and 2007. [see, Rising cancer rates (China melamine 2006-7).pdf]

      “. . . Sanlu, of which the New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra owns a 43% share. Sanlu reportedly obtains its milk from middlemen who collect it from local farmers. Investigators believe that these middlemen deliberately were adding melamine to boost product protein content readings of milk that had been watered down to increase its volume. “

      https://sgp.fas.org/crs/row/RL34080.pdf

      • Something similar is done with soy. 80% of the world’s soybean crop is fed to livestock because its protein content is among the highest per unit cost, of all grains. It also leads to quick weight gain in livestock cutting down farmers’ costs, because it is also extremely high in isoflavones, a type of plant estrogen (phytoestrogen) that is similar in function to human estrogen. But, the high levels of estrogen in our meats has caused a huge spike in ER+ breast cancers in women and infertility in men. With diets high in meats, American men, especially the post-Boomers, are almost all soy boys, with highly effeminate traits.

        • True. But the Chinese aren’t effeminate. They keep gay pride out. Their women are submissive to their husbands.

          Simultaneously, they eat cats and dogs. There are no birds, rabbits or squirrels, no wildlife. They’ve eaten everything.

          I would hesitate to equivocate the Chinese with the West.

    • And so this is how the British developed an immunity to arsenic!

      “That which does not kill you makes you stronger”

  • Yes, the people will pick convenience. If not, there will be fear attached and they will chose safety and security. We have been, and will continue to trade our freedom cheaply

  • Cash will always remain. The CIA needs it for their “operations” and the politicians need it for their under the table bribes.

  • Digital currency will be the final nail in the coffin of freedom. And ALL technology WILL be used and abused by those in power to extend and cement their hold on power. As for the accuracy of digital ID… it’s not infallible. Plus it offers the opportunity for those who control the systems involved to manipulate data to accomplish anything. Including “framing” undesirables for crimes. A digital future may be convenient but it will completely lack personal freedoms and squelch individuality.

    • I recall reading in a story where it was said –
      “Only a free society can create the technology to make tyranny possible”.

  • “Government could have a record for every citizen with everything from passport to medical records, each being accessible only to entities needing them.”
    Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight!

  • Fred: you are too kind and rational to mention religion or scripture, so I will: this reads a lot like the infrastructure of the End Times where, “no one who does not have the mark [ of the beast] will be able to buy or sell anything….

    We can see this coming… he who ears let him hear, he who has eyes let him see.

    Scary.

    • Speaking of the infrastructure, but for the LEO and other more distant less efficient satellites, network infrastructue is everywhere. I dont think the feds can protect everywhere and always have an efficient and redundant circuit: Hard cable or Tower. Everything will depend on the network. Speaking of the satellites….well they may just go away by themselves or neferious actors that take the devices out in a defensive or offensive action. The big billiard table in the sky ala the Kessler syndrome. Always a way forward and backward.

  • Not to worry, world war III is going to fix all of this.

  • There are potential workarounds. The government may ban cash or decree it worthless, but you’ll still be able to buy or sell gold or silver, or foreign money. Western Union and its competitors will still be needed so that workers from poor countries working in rich countries (both legally and not) can send money home. There will also still need to be payday lenders and check cashing places; and if the law requires you to show ID in them, the cartels will offer those services informally.

    Then there are all the things the New Order will try to ban, from being unvaccinated to eating meat. So the cartels will have plenty of customers no matter what drugs tomorrow’s governments may legalize. Surveillance tech will be a boon for them, because anything one techie can build, another can hack.

  • I think I had rather have a national sales tax and eliminate income tax for state and the IRS as well as eliminating offices full of bureaucrats. With a national sales tax (with a reduction for the poor), everyone pays their fair share of tax on what they spend — the rich, the poor, the crooked and the politician.

    More money would be taken in by the government and the remaining freedom of a cash society would be preserved.

    –JB

  • “AI routines would have no problem noticing multiple sales in known drug markets of fifty dollars, or whatever a hit of coke or fentanyl costs.”

    How would the AI know this is a fentanyl purchase, vs a small bag of groceries?
    The other dodge would be to use digital currency to buy precious metal and use that to buy narcotics?

  • Of course, the digital ID will not be used for voting.

  • The elimination of paper money will make it more difficult to get anything the government has decided it doesn’t want you to have, but it will not be impossible. Many will eventually go back to conducting commerce with a combination of the old-fashioned hard-money coins (i.e., gold and silver) and low-level barter. Criminals will start trading “prohibited” items for other commodities, then warehousing them and selling them back to others for that same hard money. A parallel system will emerge and grow. Commerce always finds a way.

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