Saturday, July 28, 2018

Future Crime, Again

My favorite stories are crime stories. I've binged on Forensic Files, Dope, Inside the American Mob, Casino, the Godfather trilogy, and my shelves are packed with crime novels and true-crime books. What I like about crime stories is that they represent the breakdown of society at the micro-level. Our construct of laws and conventions crumbles to the basest of human compulsions. Whenever I read about the brave new world of tomorrow and all the fancy gizmos that will supposedly create this utopia, I have to ask, what about crime? What in this fantastic world will address the human failings of lust, greed, avarice, and mendacity? At what point will we expect people to act only and always out of the goodness of their collective hearts? Add to this mix the truly psychotic and on top of that, new and more potent drugs that will knock the sane straight into the category of insane.

In science-fiction we have the race to keep fiction ahead of the science and that's proven to be a challenge. The appeal of science-fiction was its exploration of the what-if? Today, we're introducing the "what" at a dizzying rate, so fast that we barely get to the "if" part before reality outraces what we imagine could happen.

Dovetailing with crime stories is my love of unintended consequences. People think they have something all figured out, then wham! Oops! What interests me is the growing controversy regarding smart speakers that are always on and eavesdropping. The issue is that the police have submitted warrants asking for the parent companies to provide transcripts of what the smart speakers heard during a homicide. Who saw this coming? Could Perry Mason ever get Alexa to crack in the courtroom?

Robots are another keen example of the "what" getting ahead of the "if". Recently, Knightscope introduced a series of autonomous robo-sentries with the promise that they are a cost-effective solution to fighting crime and maintaining order. It doesn't help their cred that the machines resemble a cross between a home appliance and a sex toy.

According to company press releases, the robots "detered" homeless encampments in San Francisco. Which I found laughable. If you dig deeper into the news, you'd find out that, not surprisingly, the robots had little chance against the city's rabble of petty criminals and heroin addicts. The robots were ignominiously smeared with feces (the now ubiquitous San Francisco treat), wrapped in tarps, and upended into Dumpsters, their pathetic electronic cries for back-up ignored. And worse, criminals are actually ahead of the technology curve, using flying drones to deliver drugs, cell phones, and other contraband directly to their incarcerated buddies.

It's no secret that today our records and bank accounts are more vulnerable than ever. The cat-and-mouse game between security and hackers never ends. And the criminals exploit every possible vulnerability. For a while, here in Colorado, credit-card readers at gas pumps were secured by three padlock keys. If you copied one, then you had access to one third of all the outdoor pumps in the state. What the crooks did was open the reader's compartment and piggyback another reader that stored your data on a thumb drive.

With all the video and tracking monitoring today you would assume that people would behave themselves. But no. What that surveillance has done is allowed folks to document what fools they can be. However, you'd think that committing a crime on video would be enough to convict you, but that's not the case. Because at that point the lawyers step in and reality is turned into legal pretzels. Which is another topic that science-fiction doesn't bother with--the shysters of the future.

1 comment:

frances pickard said...

Fascinating post! Lots to think about - thanks!