by Thomas Frey
I recently read an article in which the author concluded that Facebook knows as much or more about many of the people who are not on Facebook as those that are. In fact, Facebook’s ability to track the online activity of non-Facebook Internet users has been under scrutiny for several years.
This made me wonder if Facebook was in a position to develop a database of every person on earth – or at least those connected, however minimally, to the Internet. It seems possible, but if it’s not Facebook, it’s inevitable that someone else will. That raises a lot of questions and hypotheticals about how that information might be used for better or worse.
Tracking population numbers
Who’s living and who isn’t? When someone dies or is born, the Every-Human Database will pick up on that posted news and adjust the numbers accordingly. What about the people that aren’t connected? Smart algorithms will be more than capable of augmenting the reported data with a very accurate estimate of the number and likely location of disconnected people – if not their actual names.
The Whole Earth Genealogy Project
I explored this genealogy concept a few years back, and it seems more on track than ever as we discuss the Every-Human Database.
To date, genealogies and family trees have been informed mostly by written records: census information, immigration documentation, birth records, etc. Let’s augment those with social media-based biographical information as well as the personal DNA information that more and more people are willingly giving up on sites like Ancestry and My Heritage.
Think about it. We can combine official records, the familial relationships we volunteer on social media, and DNA records to create an incredibly robust database of family trees – or even one humanity tree!
Imagine knowing how everyone is related if we just go back far enough in time. This genealogy element of the Every-Human Database would be extremely valuable for tracking hereditary diseases, for example, as well as discovering black sheep in your family history. I know I would get lost in that kind of program for hours
As we cede more and more personal privacy for the possible better, there’s one more area that comes into play: Personal recognizance.
Fingerprints. Voices. DNA. Retinas. We’ve come a long way in our ability to definitively identify a person. I predict at least one future addition to that list: Heat signatures. Just like a rocket or a missile can be identified by its vapor trail, I believe we all have unique heat signatures or auras that travel with us.
But this biometric recognition technique would be very different from the others in that it wouldn’t necessarily require physical contact or extremely close physical proximity. Thus, not only could it be used to positively identify us, but it could also be used to remotely track us. Carry this through to the logical futuristic extreme, and I wonder how long will it be before people can be tracked from satellites?
Sound far-fetched? Consider that Google Earth can capture a reasonable picture of an item ½ meter large. And if that technology is available for commercial use, imagine what’s being employed by military and intelligence organizations.
It’s all the more information for our Every-Human Database!
Creating the “God Globe”
There’s another futuristic vision I’ve been cultivating for a while and it’s an extension of the Every-Human Database. This mega-computer, or “God Globe” would include all of that human being information we’ve covered so far as well as data from all other sources, such as medical research, satellite imagery, news outlets, the Internet of Things, and so, so, so much more. Then we add an interventional element.
Call it a master console or a command center. I see this God Globe as a force programmed to preserve our world – predicting and solving problems before they occur. Pointing out solutions to emerging challenges. Identifying evil before it’s manifest.
Since I’m a sci-fi fan, I tend to picture the God Globe as a giant, spherical, suspended display with muted lights pulsing and flashing. Along with just a slight hum. This mega-brain is continually exploring the world’s data looking for trends and anomalies. It uses its power only for good, to solve problems before they occur. Until it’s co-opted by a dark force of course!
The Future is nearer than you think
If you still have doubts about the universality and sheer magnitude of data – personal and otherwise – that’s available for use or abuse, consider these facts from this impressive compilation from the software company TechJury:
- Google gets over 3.5 billion searches daily
- WhatsApp users exchange up to 65 billion messages daily
- 80-90% of the data we generate today is unstructured
- In 2020, there was only around 40 trillion gigabytes of data (40 zettabytes)
- 2012, only 0.5% of all data was analyzed
- Internet users generate about 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day
- In 2019, internet users spent 1.2 billion years online
- Social media accounts for 33% of the total time spent online
- In 2019, there were 2.3 billion active Facebook users
- Twitter users send over half a million tweets every minute
- By 2020, every person generated 1.7 megabytes a second
- The number of IoT devices could rise to 41.6 billion by 2025
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not an advocate for intrusive invasion of personal space and access of private information. It’s just that we’re already on that path – we’re volunteering most of what makes up Big Data just by agreeing to connect to the Internet – actively or passively. All of that information WILL be collected. So maybe we need to get ahead of this trend and make sure the information is used for good, not evil. And not just for marketing.