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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Sep 12, 2013

"A free market drives out all irrational behavior and prejudices."
Uhm, no. Otherwise homeopathic medicine, psychics, junk food and most of Wall Street would have withered and died decades ago.

"(W)e should have hundreds of different states, each of which have their own rules enforced. Businesses and people would naturally flock to the ones with reasonable rules."
What happens now is firms legally locate in the states with the weakest regulations and most consumer-hostile laws, then make that the standard for their dealings nationwide. People might flock to a state with strong consumer protection, but it won't do them any good.

As for the death of currency, I think too many major forces have a vested interest in fuzzy money. Adult entertainment and the gaming industry would resist too precise tracking, in part because it would scare off customers. The firearms industry, because their market has been trained to be scared of such things. "Advocacy" (campaign) spending, especially where shell games are used to distance a candidate's campaign from dirty tricks. And of course, any business where fingers are in the till.
Sep 12, 2013
Couldn't you just cut someone's thumb off, and preserve it?
+27 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 12, 2013
As usual, Scott, your suggestions are delusional. Crime always advances with technology. Always. There are no exceptions to this. :Op

And I especially liked your utopian ideals wherein a government could be completely transparent (hahahaha).

+28 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 12, 2013
The end of crime? Let's look at car thefts for an analogy. First they figured out you could pop a lock with a flat piece of metal between the glass and door. So they welded in a piece of steel to block that. Then they figured out how to reach under the dash and hot wire. So they put the ignition switch on the steering column. Then they learned how to pop the steering column lock and hot wire that too...on it goes until finally it seems measures are finally in place that actually do make it difficult to steal your car. So a new word becomes part of the American lexicon. "Carjacking." Let us not forget that criminals are simply entrepreneurs addicted to their own adrenaline. If your finger is the only thing preventing your stolen "walletphone" from accessing loads of desirable goods and services, I assure you that dead or alive your finger will be coming to the party.
+12 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 12, 2013
If my national government AND the US government AND the chinese government AND the UK/French/German/Israel/Russian governments commit to total transparency then I might be willing to agree to a loss of privacy.

For this to happen you need a revolution. That anything will change on the path we are now is delusional. Israel showed that it is possible to be in a constant state of war for decades (there was a brief moment of uncertainty about that, but Rabin was executed pretty fast). That is what the US now wants and implements, a constant war against terror allowing them to put everything they do under top secret because of national security and on the other hand trying to spy on everyone on earth, with the caveat that the rights of US citizens might not be violated. Note: There never has been any assurance by the US government that they wont violate my rights, in fact, as a non-US citizen I have no rights at all.
+28 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 12, 2013
"The question of the day is this: If the government said..."

Stop. The answer is no, whatever the question is.
Sep 12, 2013
Also, you are mistaken to think this would mean the end of illegal transactions. If you dont beleive me google bitcoin. That or something like that will be the illegal currency of the future if the rest of your vision here become reality.
Sep 12, 2013
People like myself oppose the state because it's essentially a monopoly service provider who uses violent coercion to finance its services. We don't want them controlling things because they have no competitors. A free market drives out all irrational behavior and prejudices. Government, by allowing everyone an equal vote that costs literally nothing tangible but time, preserves them. I absolutely embrace a future with biometric certainty for transactions and ID... as long as we don't have a government that monopolizes law. Instead, we should have hundreds of different states, each of which have their own rules enforced. Businesses and people would naturally flock to the ones with reasonable rules (the basics: prohibition against violence and theft). It would be a market, with states competing for citizen-customers. They would set tax policies with the understanding that they might lose customers (high taxpayers) if they don't offer something in return. We need less centralized authority (the original colonies had under 4 million people when the Constitution was enacted... several *cities* today have more). We need radical decentralization and experimentation, and THEN when the customers are in control due to competition for citizen-customers, we won't fear any authority, since they will be kept in check not by 2-6 year election cycles, but by constant influx/outflow of customers.
Sep 12, 2013
If the cashless fingerprint phone tech takes off, it will be just another iteration in the forgery/anti-forgery wear. There will be ways around it, perhaps by discreetly getting a fingerprint from someone and then making a fake fingertip.
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 12, 2013
No idea why part of that got censored! Damn you NSA!
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 12, 2013
So what happens when you lose your phone? You have no alternate source of cash, and are reliant on the kindness of others allowing you to use their phone to call your phone company/bank..

I like the thought of my hotel room !$%*!$%*! to my preferences but I don't see this happening any time soon. Maybe Scott stays in some posher places than I do, but most hotel rooms I've been in recently have manual radiator controls or at best a clunky ac controller that can't be set at the right temperature even with a phd!

I also don't think most people are in favour of losing privacy for convenience, especially with trust in western governments at an all time low. I don't want GCHQ (NSA equivalent) reading my mails even if I have nothing to hide. The government can't be trusted not to live lavishly on expenses or take "cash for questions" or cover up police brutality etc etc, so why should we trust them to monitor all communications in search of so called terrorists when they may just keep tabs on those who are politically aligned away from them...

Many people are moving away from Facebook to other networks that are not so tied to a "real" identity. I certainly post a lot less online these days, and use various aliases etc.. But I also don't believe I've been careful enough over the years that most of it can't be tied back to me anyway. I pity the kids growing up now who may be haunted by their childish posts/tweets that will be saved for posterity.
Sep 12, 2013
Also, cant help thinking that one thing weve learned-or should have learned-from our experience with the Soviet Union is that utopian ideas are best approached slowly. Its okay to work towards this world you're envisioning step by step, just be prepared to halt and reassess when something doesnt work as expected and be prepared to stop at some point. Or for the utopia you arrive at to look different from the idea you started out with.
Sep 12, 2013
...Umm....what exactly makes you think folks will like the government so much in the future or that the economy will be so good? Weve made a lot of progress in the past few centuries but that hasnt changed two basic things here: folks dont like the government any better, even though its improved a lot, and the economic progress weve made has served to increase our expectations so that were not happy with the economy unless it keeps growing without end. I dont think folks will be any happier with either in the future even if the trend continues.
Sep 12, 2013
The loss of government-produced cash as a currency is somewhat likely to happen at some point, but some alternate form of non-digital currency will arise to replace it for illegal and embarrassing transactions.
+15 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 12, 2013
"What would that world look like?

For starters, it would be the end of a lot of crime. "

Unfortunately, if everything can be accessed with a fingerprint, I can imagine roving bolt cutter gangs, along with many people stumbling around with neither their phones nor their index fingers.
Sep 12, 2013
This looks like the start of an epic dystopian tale!

Two problems I see: First, there are still way too many taboos and stigmas for the vast majority of people to even remotely accept such an instrusive dip into their privacy, even with the promise of a glorious future (and too many people have been promised that too many times as well). Second, Google and Madison Avenue would have a field day with that level of intimate, personal information - if my greatest weakness is well known and exploitable to advertisers then they've got their fingers permanently in my wallet. Off course, by then, maybe there will be no stigma around addictions....
Sep 12, 2013
I would actually prefer privacy on both ends, but that is an unlikely scenario.

Oh, and fingerprint readers are not the way to go or little girls would take over the world within a week's time:

Sep 12, 2013
Well, would these government conversations actually be available for public consumption?

Never mind that for all practical intents and purposes, there are reasons for a government to need secrets when other governments that DO keep secrets exist. If everyone could access what exactly was happening with a country's government, they might consider them weaker and ripe for manipulation/extortion/attack.

And that's even forgetting the dual concepts of a) just TALKING in code and b) pencil, paper, and a source of fire to destroy the informally written record. It would risk making things even more secretive - though not everything is recorded these days, there's still a lot of classified records kept.
Sep 12, 2013
I have a problem with the assumption, that everything else stays the same, and we only have a single whatif for the decade. My own perspective is that we would need much less governing in a world like you are describing. But with an IF that this is not a single country, but at least a single planet that we are talking about. THEN with the smaller, weaker and differently focused government, I would be happy with zero privacy around me.
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