By Veronica Chavez
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
Technology is a wonderful thing. It helps us improve medical procedures, lets us collect images from outer space, and enables millions of people to binge-watch their favorite shows virtually from any location, at any time. Without a doubt, it makes our lives easier. But when does new technology cross from innovative and inspiring, to potentially dangerous and sometimes downright creepy? Here are some of the latest innovations churned out by the technology world that are teetering on that very line:
Google’s Self-driving Car
You’ve probably seen it on your street. A white car, Google written on the side of it, sitting ever so curiously in your neighborhood, driving ever so slowly down your street. By now, most people know that the vehicle is mapping its surroundings for Google’s Street View.
What many may not realize is the car serves a dual purpose, the second being to help the tech giant gather data for the development of their self-driving car—an autonomous vehicle that can navigate along streets and freeways while successfully steering clear of accidents and keeping traffic flowing without hitch. Considering humans are capable of all sorts of distractions on the road—whether it be responding to texts, fiddling with radio knobs, taking that call when they know they shouldn’t take that call, and of course, nodding off after a long night of work—having a car that is immune to all these possible disturbances seems like a great idea.
Hopefully, one day it will be, but for now, Google’s self-driving cars appear to be experiencing a number of problems of their own.
The Dark Side: For one, the car has difficulty driving through snow. The cars apparently have a tough time “seeing” the lane markers and other cues needed to navigate smoothly and stay positioned correctly on the road. Secondly, when the car is met with a change on the road that has happened after their “map” has been configured, the car gets lost and alerts the human driver to take over control, which is great. The only concern is the transition between robot mode and human mode.
How much warning time is needed to alert the driver? How startling should the alert be? Can drivers truly relax and leave the driving up their vehicles? These questions need to be answered before Google can move forward or they are simply designing a new type of car accident.
Google likes inventing stuff, can you tell? Along with their self-driving car, Google has invented a computer for your face. With Google Glass, you can take a walk, find out the weather, what cafes are near you, snap a picture of that pretty tree as you pass it by, share it to the social media platform of your choosing, and navigate your way back home, all without reaching for your phone once.
The all-in-one factor of Glass is kind of like that episode of Seinfeld where George pretty much lives on his La-Z-Boy recliner because it has a built in fridge, a snack compartment, and a holder for his TV remote. Though as it has been said time and time again, with power comes the abuse of power, and Glass, of course, is no exception.
The Dark Side: Google Glass hasn’t even entered the market yet and already consumers have come up with a name for those who choose to purchase the device: “Glassholes”. Debates have already begun as to whether Google Glass can distract drivers from the road, whether they should be allowed in movie theaters, casinos, and bars, and if those who wear the device are simply foot-soldiers in Google’s privacy-infiltrating army.
Admittedly, getting distracted on the road, taking inappropriate pictures without consent, and feeding data to Google is something people would do with or without Glass. So perhaps it’s a good thing the device definitely brings these issues to the forefront?
Military aerial vehicles are pretty scary on their own, but nothing creeps people out like domestic spy drones. In 2012, the US Congress passed the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act, a bill that orders the FAA to develop regulations for the testing and licensing commercial drones by 2015. And as if all this wasn’t enough, scientists are even developing drones the size of insects that will be so small that they will be nearly impossible to detect.
The Dark Side: As a military-industrial complex device, drones raise questions about how ethical it is to conduct operations of war remotely, even when minimal civilian casualties are “assured.” As for domestic drones, it’s pretty creepy to think that the government is now not only watching our internet and phone activity, but also what we do in the real world even when we leave our technology at home. Privacy advocates worry that these drones are a small step away from specific, targeted surveillance, and indiscriminate 24/7 spying on anyone and everyone. Big Brother sure is getting good at what he does.
If the items on this list weren’t futuristic enough for you yet, let’s talk about DNA hacking. The human genome was fully mapped in 2003 and since then, this knowledge has helped us learn about the root causes of terrible diseases like Alzheimers and common cancers. In 2010, J. Craig Venter, a bio-entrepreneur who is considered one of the first to map the human genome, successfully built the world’s first synthetic, self-replicating chromosome, a feat that will surely lead to medical miracles. But what happens when information like this gets into the hands of the wrong people?
The Dark Side: In a world where everyone is like Mr. Rogers, medical discoveries like this would be amazing, they would only be used for good, and everyone would be happy. Unfortunately, we live in a world where information like this is gold for evil-doers, specifically bio-terrorists who could potentially attack the genetic makeup of an entire population by unleashing treatment-resistant deadly bacteria. And these types of attacks don’t necessarily need to be done by maniacal bioterrorists from a remote land, they can be carried out by anyone who purchases a DNA “printer” like DNA 2.0.