Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Uncertain Health in an Insecure World – 89

“Much Fanfare”

Data don’t matter much. We filter the evidence through our own beliefs. The process simply confirms our pre-existing biases.

Fanfare is the new data – “a loud, proud burst of something to get attention” – spotlights, trumpets, musketry or media. There may be MUCH or little fanfare regarding the promise of different things. And the fanfare repeats – precision medicine… big data… internet-of-things… digital health… artificial intelligence… innovation… Cloud data sharing.

The present pace of scientific progress is truly unparalleled. The march of technology is steadily quickening. Unbridled computational power is generating limitless data. 

The promise of all this progress sets social media influencers abuzz.

API-backed apps pulse through insecure mobile devices, and endless memes clutter our culture. Digital health saves some lives, and will surely improve the quality of the rest. It could happen! But until such progress is realized and broadly adopted, is it hyperbole… a distraction… or a public nuisance?

Does such technology actually make us better… individually or collectively? And what happens when while making progress, society fails to deliver on the basics… foundational institutions… the family unit… personal safety?

The same World Wide Web that connects us makes state-sponsored personal surveillance possible.

Many of our modern life-enhancing technology crutches – the Internet, Siri, Windows’ UI – are U.S. Department of Defense DARPA-funded by-products of military efforts to launch rockets and protect our national security. Semi-autonomous machines – drones -- have taken out >120 ISIL commanders during President Obama’s administration, often with collateral damage (below). U.S. Special Forces have stealth technology’d their way into the Syrian conflict. International financial cyber-security interdiction is starving ISIL’s cash reserves and payoffs.

Google has a very complicated relationship with global governments and local law enforcement.

At the 6th European Data Protection Days in late April in Berlin (after the Paris & Brussels attacks, and before Nice & Munich), Giovanni Buttarelli, the EU data protection supervisor, noted that “The digital world is globalized, so data protection should also be globalized.” Google’s Global Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer was there to debate the point.

Israeli start-up Waze Mobility sold its GPS navigation app to Google in 2013 for US$966M. Millions of law-abiding drivers now use its way-finding and radar speed trap detection capabilities. But in 2015, U.S. police associations wrote to Google CEO Larry Page to express their concerns that Waze will be used by domestic jihadists for “police stalking.” The police have reason to worry, it now seems.

Differences in national threat levels have created global policy divides over digital privacy rights.

ISIL-inspired terror in Europe is now outpacing that in post-9/11 America. Still reeling from recent attacks where terrorists communicated digitally, the EU continues to go hard after U.S. tech giants playing in Europe’s back yard (Google, Amazon, Facebook) for how they harvest and handle people’s digital data.  Pro-privacy EU policies protect all European residents from privacy invasion, without preventing Internet-inspired and cellphone-coordinated terrorism.

ISIL radicalizes its recruits with the Internet and social media – finding foot soldiers, broadcasting public executions, spreading propaganda, and transacting illicit petro-commerce.

Regardless of personal privacy policies and corporate regulatory regimes, both the U.S. and Europe have suffered deadly urban warfare fomented by jihadists who were radicalized on line, and terrorist attacks engineered using real-time digital platforms. Of course, Brexit won’t change this…

After the 15th ISIL-inspired U.S. mass shooting since 2009 (above), President Obama again approached the microphone and lamented the fact that the very technology that searches out and destroys terrorists is now used by terrorists. He noted that ISIL’s “propaganda, their videos, their postings are pervasive and more easily accessible than we want.”

When violence comes home, shocked, we suddenly care, and lift up our heads from our mobile devices.

In April in Berlin, President Obama said, “I want to say this to young people who value their privacy and spend a lot of time on their phones: The threat of terrorism is real.” Later in Hanover, President Obama said, “We care about Europeans’ privacy, not just Americans’ privacy.”

Returning early from a Warsaw NATO summit (after Orlando & Dallas, and before Baton Rouge), President Obama observed that, “the (Orlando Pulse nightclub) killer took in extremist information and propaganda over the Internet … (and) became radicalized.”

Politicians think and speak differently when The Homeland is attacked. But do their actions reflect reality?

Donald Trump’s raucous Republican convention featured the first openly gay speaker (Peter Thiel of PayPal, Palantir, Clarium Capital; above) and a return to a surreal Nixon-esque law & order theme. Hilary Clinton’s Democratic convention is underway, but her “unacceptable lack of (email) transparency” in foreign affairs and her party’s Watergate-esque real domestic dirty tricks and document leaks remain political liabilities. It may have been dark in Cleveland, but it's not always sunny in Philadelphia.

In President Obama’s response to the July Munich shopping mall shootings (after Cleveland, and before Philadelphia), he expressed sympathy, joked awkwardly about his daughter leaving for college, then reflected seriously on how America’s domestic security, “depends on law enforcement… under some of the most adverse circumstances imaginable at times…” In their own special ways, each candidate will promise to make us all safer, just as President Obama did in 2009, when he said that, “the time has come to set aside childish things.

Our curious world is continuously engaged in rediscovery… Some call it progress.

Zealots, influencers and politicians alike promise much… virgins, relevance and prosperity.

We take what they promise on faith… a naïve childlike belief in a better future.

The recent past influences the way we perceive the present.

And trumping all evidence, our biases continue to shape the way we imagine the future.

Like you, we in the Square watch the balloons drop and endure the speeches. But in a world often lacking civic-ness and civility, sometimes the promise of progress needs no fanfare.

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