Apple's new iPhone will have a fingerprint reader on the home button for security.

Imagine if the government required fingerprint scanners on any new phone sold after a certain date. And then imagine the government requiring phone companies to phase out service to any cell phone that doesn't have a fingerprint sensor.

Now imagine that your phone becomes your only wallet and only means of paying for stuff. That seems likely at some point. The government won't print cash forever, and credit cards are redundant with your phone.

What would that world look like?

For starters, it would be the end of a lot of crime. The government would know who was doing what and where it was happening. There would be no such thing as committing a crime and going on the run unless you had friends buying you food and necessities with their own phones. And even then the government could detect who your friends and family are and look for spikes in their food-buying patterns.

As I've written before, the apps and services that would be possible in a world where people have no privacy would be incredible. Life is mostly about moving people and things from wherever they happen to be to where they could better be used. When all the people and products in the world have a location and a history that is known to all, life could become almost magical. Your hotel room would adjust its temperature to your preferences before you finished checking in at the lobby. Every car on the road would have multiple passengers, cutting traffic and commute times in half. And those cars will drive themselves. When you approach any computer screen, your phone will act as the brains and bring up your home screen.

So that part is all good.

The only downside is that the government in such a world would have complete control over the people.

That's a large downside.

But by then the government might have the highest approval rating of all time simply because life is so pleasant and the economy would be turbo-charged by all the new possibilities that come out of knowing where everyone is and what they want.

I'm an optimist, so I wonder if there is any future technology that will help citizens control their governments and neutralize the risks that stem from a total loss of privacy.

I think there is.

For starters, the government could make it illegal to campaign in any fashion but on the Internet, which would be free to any legitimate candidate. The process would involve local candidates winning in their own towns, even if they are running for national office, before competing in, for example, a county-wide election and then statewide and finally national. By the time the election reaches the national level, the number of candidates would be down to a handful. And no campaign money would have tainted the process.

Then I'd want more transparency on the workings of government itself. So let's say government officials are required by law to hold work-related meeting in rooms that are wired to record everything happening. Every meeting would be encrypted and stored on government servers. One would still need a court order and a good reason to view any recordings, but I have to think it would keep most politicians from doing anything too outrageous. Even their phone calls would be recorded.

People could still meet in person to collude and scheme. But in today's world I think that would seem like too much trouble. Ninety percent of government corruption would disappear overnight if all government conversations were recorded.

If public oversight of the government stays as is, it would be risky for citizens to give up too much privacy in return for a better economy and richer life. But if technology allows citizens to better monitor their elected representatives, perhaps that restores the balance of power.

The question of the day is this: If the government said it would record all of its own conversations, would you be okay with a law requiring fingerprint scanners on all future phones and a phase-out of cash and physical credit cards over time? Let's say it's a ten year plan.

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Nov 27, 2013
Several people have used the argument that people will just cut off the finger along with taking the phone.

Stupid criminals might still do that out of ignorance of the technology, but the severed finger won't work. Using the iPhone 5s as an example, its fingerprint sensor detects the sub-epidermal layers of your skin. Translation: it won't work unless the finger used is also attached to a living human being. The RF capacitive sensor technology is built in a way that the fingerprint image has to be taken from a live finger.

Granted, in the case of dealing with stupid criminals, the loss of a finger, regardless of its actual use to the criminal, is not an appealing in the least.

+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 23, 2013
"so I wonder if there is any future technology that will help citizens control their governments "

There is, and it is not future. It's called "weapons".
Sep 17, 2013
Scott Adams has a most unusual mind. You are right up there with Gary Larson and Gahan Wilson. You've outdone yourself with todays cartoon, September 17, 2013. I take it that's a likeness of you in the mirror? One thing I never miss reading is Dilbert, a great commentary on not just the insanity of the corporate culture but a parallel description of the federal government. Rueful humor at its best. Like all really great humor, it's reality based. At least Scott is able to make insanity laughable. Thanks
Sep 16, 2013
I look forward to increased transparency in society.
It's a good thing.
I happen to be rereading a science fiction novel from 1957, The Stainless Steel Rat, an entertaining story which predicted a future where crime would be impossible to get away and the anti-hero who is a professional criminal (rat) in that stainless steel world.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 16, 2013
This is the impression your privacy-posts make on me:

You are rationilizing the fact that we are losing our privacy, you suppose there is no way to turn it around, and you try to make the best of it.

I don't think that's the way to go. There will be no totally transparent government, there will be no technological utopia. I can't explain why, I just know it. Mankind isn't ready for that. Maybe you are, but you're not exactly typical.

So in the mean time, we'll have to somehow fight the abuse of information by governments and industries. E.g. it is still possible to encrypt your information so that even the NSA can't decypher it:
Sep 16, 2013
A government with the power to micromanage citizens with this much authoritarian precision is a much greater irritant than any of the problems this would solve. And many of these problems will be solved without government help because the technology is getting better and more ubiquitous.

I simply do not accept the premise that a government with such power would exercise it in a rational, unbiased, and benevolent way.
Sep 15, 2013
The order needs to be the opposite. I want the government to have zero privacy before the people gets zero privacy.

And by that I mean all government meetings, all phone calls, all emails they send need to be public. Not stored and encrypted and protected by a judge, but public and automatically posted to the internet. The taxpayers are paying for them to work so what they do at work should be visible to their employers (the people).

I wanna know how much money each politician is making and how much money they are spending so we can sniff corruption. I wanna read their emails so we will know what they are planning and the people can have a say before they do anything that goes against the people.

Privacy is like your hand in a poker game. If everyone sees your cards before you see theirs, there is no way it's gonna end well.
Sep 14, 2013
There was that macguyver episode "The human factor" where he sprinkles corn starch or baby powder over the scanner to capture the fingerprints, takes a shirt over it, then presses down, and instantly he's in.

ppl have mentioned hacks here but another one is assuming someone else doesn't have a backdoor to say their fingerprint is a master key to all !$%*!$%*!$% with fingerprint ID design, you're assuming 1-to-1 specifications, but it'll likely be 2 (fingerprints)-to-1 access at least, - 1 is my ID, and the other is the government.. could be more..
Sep 14, 2013
And another thing: fingerprints are a terrible 'security' code. You walk around and literally leave copies of your fingerprints everywhere. Your fingerprints can be easily lifted and copied. Mythbusters did a show where they could fool most biometric fingerprint scanners with a simple photocopy of someone else's fingerprint stuck to their finger.

Imagine if, everytime you spoke to someone, you started each conversation by telling them your bank card PIN number. That's how incredibly stupid it is to link your fingerprint to your financial transactions.

Ever had to change your PIN number because your card was stolen or hacked? Now think about getting your fingerprints changed.
Sep 14, 2013
No. Just no. I don't mind the technology. Sounds promising and probable. I mind the coercion. The kind of government that would be necessary for me to feel comfortable giving it that degree of invasion rights into my life has never existed in the history of the world, and I don't expect that ten years and a reapplication of current technology is going to change that.

On a related note, cross-apply everything I've ever said here about technological modernism being a failed ideology.
+22 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 13, 2013
A government that can give you everything you want can take everything you have.
Sep 13, 2013
One issue with this possible future scheme I have not seen addressed is this:
How will everybody have a phone?
Also, will you have to spend money to be able to spend money?

In our current society, spending Cash is free, and the Consumer generally does not see the extra cost of using a Credit Card or Debit card for their purchases.
Those with Cell Phones pay a monthly fee to keep it active. They pay even more to have a dataplan to be able to use such cash functions.

There is still a significant population that does not have electricity.

Though in the US, that seems to be more of a choice to live in remote areas or off the grid.

Reminds me of the issue Xbox One had when it was announced 100% broadband connectivity as a requirement.
shows that they were limiting their customer base.
+12 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 13, 2013
I see you are stilll at it: hopefully supporting hopey changey with naive optimism.

power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. this is why decentralizing power is the only option. i think you are insane. you relentlessly posit new ideas about how control can be optimized and almost every single one involves removing choice from individual. are you an elitist who thinks the unwashed masses dont deserve to run their own lives?

ive always thought of you as a misguided technofile, but you never tire or change tactics. my original hypothesis appears to have been incorrect. You are starting to look like a regular statist who ignorantly supports policy that leads to totalitarianism.

How come you never promote tech that would reclaim some power for the individual? things like bitcoin and anonymous internet usage are cool in some circles. why not yours?

less technofile, more autocrat groupie. i will say im glad to see dilbert being cast as snowden in your recent strips. snowden is a hero fighting against 1984. bill oreilly and chris matthews both think he is an outlaw traitor, makes it pretty obvious what the truth is.
Sep 13, 2013
I was trying to imagine the downstream effects after our national switchover day to "cars that drive themselves".

First of all, there'll be no more accidents. That means that collision repair is out of business. No more insurance, insurance agents or insurance fraud. We'll need less physicians, physical therapists, lawyers and less morticians who specialize in facial reconstruction. Factories that manufacture air bags, seat belts, roll bars, crush zones, etc -- all gone, and with less vehicle weight comes better gas mileage, so less oil drilling and fracking.

Amtrak will finally go under. Why ride a train when you can ride a self-driving car? Airlines will probably go self-piloting around the same time, so pilots and train engineers can commiserate together.

The look of highways will change. No signs or traffic lights will be necessary. Streetlights -- gone. Pothole repair can be done during rush hour without slowing anybody down. No highway patrol is needed because nobody is breaking the law anymore. People who train police dogs will find it tougher to make a living. Aging rural overpasses won't need to be replaced it since it's just as efficient to thread opposing traffic straight through.

The housing industry will be affected. People will realize it's cheaper to be shuttled around aimlessly in a RV than to pay rent. Less real estate agents will be needed. Less roofers, plumbers, carpet layers, etc.

Maybe more people will have kids since the hassle factor will be lower. Kids will have their own cars (Hello Kitty Car?), driving themselves to school, soccer practice, etc. A software niche will grow that specializes in monitoring children.

Drive-thru fast food joints will shut down and move to the highways, delivering hot sandwiches to moving vehicles. In-N-Out Burger will change their name to Meet-You-on-the-Interstate Burger.

Hitchhiking will make a huge comeback as facial recognition and other technologies make it safe. Pros titution will begin a new arms race with law enforcement. However, most cops will be behind computer screens, with suspect cars having their destinations overridden before they drive themselves to the cop shop. Or for lesser crimes, a paypal debit after an AI judge makes a quick ruling.

Free car rental/leasing will be common. The trade-off will be an in-car screen that constantly bombards you with commercial advertisements. Billboards will become less common.

There will be greater demand for in-car entertainment. Vehicles with TV, wet bar, and beds will be common. Maybe windowless cars with mini se x-dungeons. The pot industry will get a boost since public safety is no longer an issue. In-car internet gaming will explode and the most popular game will likely be a driving game, complete with steering wheel, foot pedals and a jerking seat.

+17 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 13, 2013
There is simply no way that a government with that kind of control would ever be benevolent. I think you grossly misunderstand what kind of horrible people seek that level of control over other people. They may believe that they're good people, but they're not. It is the central feature of evil. It is the foundation of all corruption.
Sep 13, 2013
Imagine if everyone trusted each other, didn't lie, and we were nice to everyone.

For starters, it would be the end of a lot of crime.
And we wouldn't need lawyers, because we could trust another person when they promised something. And it wouldn't matter if the government had complete control because we would all be nice to each other anyway.

But we don't trust each other. We do lie. And while we might be polite sometimes, mostly we're just indifferent.

So I don't trust the government to look out for me. The government is just a large organization of people. It doesn't matter that they have the best intentions - they are just as incompetent, untrustworthy and corrupt as anyone else.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 13, 2013
IBM/Lenovo have had these for years. Remember the Bionic finger commercials. They are on Youtube

You should have objected then.
Sep 13, 2013
Imagine... yes, I do can imagine it. And it doesn't make me to feel happy.
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 13, 2013
Fine, but let the government and corporations go first.

Let's record everything they do and openly publish anything to do with spending taxpayer money or that doesn't put any lives in danger ("national security"). It's our money after all...we should know where it goes.

If that works out well, then we can start with the public.
Sep 13, 2013
My basic reminder for those who crave weak little governments: Some large entity is always going to grab any power the government doesn't, and it's probably going to be even worse. We may be just a few mergers away from quasi-mandatory digital money; likely a specific product (the Microsoft OS of digital money). The goal will not be oppression but simply increasing profits by giving you less service and fewer options.

You'll be free not to participate, of course. But there will be ever fewer ways for you to receive and spend money otherwise, and those will cost you time and money by design. Employers will be reluctant to hire you, since paying you will be inconvenient and expensive. Businesses will discourage your custom for the same reason. The assumption will be you're involved in crime if you deal in cash for any amount.

This commercial dates back to 2007. The message, that people who use cash are jerks who ruin everybody else's day, ticked off a lot of people then. But give them time to polish the message, replace more cashiers with cash-hostile machines, and more subtly demonize non-conformists:

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