I watched the movie Minority Report on television last week where Tom Cruise’s character, John Anderton, tries to evade law enforcement in a futuristic city littered with sensors and biometric authentication readers that identify citizens in real time and make it possible to detect their every move.
At one point, Anderton tries to escape moving temperature sensors, in the form of robotic spiders, that invade the building in which he’s hiding. He fully immerses himself in a tub of ice water so his body temperature won’t be detected.
Seeing the movie again got me thinking about a conversation I had with an industry expert about smart metres, a mechanical device sensitive to light, temperature, water level, etc. The expert told me that when it comes to gathering data, modern scientific research is increasingly less about direct observation than it is sensor-based. IBM Corp., for example, is involved in various smart metre initiatives around the world like a partnership with New York-based The Beacon Institute to conduct research on rivers and estuaries.
The practice of gathering data through sensors will probably eventually move beyond academia and research just like in Anderton’s world. The Internet Protocol for Smart Objects (IPSO) Alliance, for instance, promotes the use of Internet Protocol so different devices can communicate. The idea is that if your smoke detector goes off, it will signal your gas stove to switch off, and then send an SMS to your mobile so you know your house is on fire.
In Anderton’s world, authorities don’t need to be present to know if a human is hiding in the building. They just disperse creepy crawly robotic sensors to do the manual work and sit back and wait for the real-time data. If Anderton’s world is built like IPSO would like it, he probably should be afraid to turn on the coffee machine or toaster lest the authorities, in hot pursuit, would know he was home.
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