Science & Society

Science and Society and how they get along.

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Location: Santa Barbara, California, United States

I'm a physicist and science consultant specialized in optics, lasers and optical engineering. This blog, StarkFX, looks at what applications physics is finding today. Or, if you are looking at my StarkEffects blog, it displays my views about and interest in the interface between society and science.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Big Brother All Over Again

I was visiting a company in Silicon Valley this week which is solving the problems associated with identifying people at a distance. In this case they are using the biometric of iris recognition, see John Daugman's web page: for some fascinating information about iris recognition. This biometric has the potential to be more specific and more reliable than any other presently available, including DNA based ID. On top of this advantage, it could be used to identify people at a great distance if you could image a small iris with approximately 10 micrometer resolution. The company I was visiting, AOptix, is developing technology that makes that possible.

The societal issue is one that we have faced many times before, most recently with the advent of cell phones, the location of which can be tracked very closely. Privacy and anonymity are quickly being lost. If you can be uniquely identified by a computer from many meters away while you are totally unaware of the ID being made, then you simply can't go anywhere without being recognized and even tracked by anyone with the technology and infrastructure to do so.

What is the problem? What legitimate purpose could I have for hiding my identity or whereabouts? If I am not paranoid enough to believe that those in power have any reason to prevent my profitable pursuits then is there any reason to hide?

I'm afraid that just may be the problem. Humankind has a terrible history associated with the phenomena of those in power crushing any possible attempt by any potential competitor to upset the order of things. We all want greater safety in our society and technologies like the one mentioned above may offer that increase in security. Like any technology, these can be misused by those that possess them. In my opinion, the best way to prevent such misuse is an understanding of those technologies. An understanding held by a well informed, well educated and involved population.

-Wishing us luck-
Troy Stark