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If you haven't heard, Microsoft has released the Xbox Kinect. Now, I'm not a gamer, so I wasn't really that excited about a new way of playing games, but, oh... this goes so much deeper than games.
The unobtrusive box uses cameras and sonar to track 48 major points on your skeleton. So, it knows if you're waving a hand or a foot. It knows if you're sitting or standing. It knows if you're playing bad or good. So be good, for god's sake, be good. Xbox is watching.
The idea is that this is always on, so, you can walk into the room and say, "Xbox on" just like Captain Kirk would say "Computer on" only you don't get a bad monotone "working..." Instead, you get something that plays games with you while you gesticulate and wiggle. All the while it's watching like HAL on Discovery One with its gleaming fish eyes and probing sonic sensors.
It's not that I'm paranoid, well, not much, and I obviously read and watch way too much science fiction, but let's think through the obvious evolution of this thing. This is exactly the technology George Orwell described in 1984, only with a computer watching for patterns. Kind of Big Brother and HAL rolled into one.
Think about how everyone fights over the remote -- there IS no remote so you both keep changing channels back and forth. Tempers flare and a fight breaks out. With all that skeletal tracking and voice recognition, it's reasonable to assume that you could program in motion tracking that looks for real violence and threatening language.
The Xbox is tied into the Internet, and it even knows how to talk. In theory, it could call the cops on a Voice over IP connection, and have a limited conversation with the 911 operator. Help is on the way.
Of course, if you have a conversation about blowing up the Pentagon, one would assume that Xbox could pick up the keywords, record the entire conversation, recognize a potential threat, and forward it to the NSA. It's always on, so unless you unplug it, who's to say you aren't being listened to?
The Justice Department has already had Microsoft add programming to Windows at the government's request. The only bits I know are benign hooks to make it easier for people with disabilities to interact with the software, but the precedence is there. We know the NSA already has some ability to conduct warrantless wiretaps -- in a slightly more paranoid, slightly less scrupulous future, who's to say that they couldn't, quietly add my paranoid programming?
Now, I know, it's crazy talk, and the Kinect looks like a great step forward in removing us from the tethers of game controllers, remote controls and keyboards. But as things become more connected and more pervasive, a little paranoia isn't a bad thing.
Because if they ARE out to get you, the tools just got a whole hell of a lot more scary.