Sultans used eunuchs to guard their harems. The Vatican uses Swiss Guards for protection. In Harry Potter's world, goblins operate the Gingotts Wizarding bank. Apparently there is a right kind of guardian for every type of asset. I was thinking about this as I wondered about the best way to protect personal information. My suggestion is nuns.

I would trust nuns to guard my personal information in the cloud. I would also trust nuns to keep the government from getting my information and using it for evil. But I would limit the job to nuns who have been in the habit, so to speak, for at least twenty years. That sort of person is unlikely to suddenly turn evil and accept a bribe. And nuns don't fear death because they are sure the afterlife is an upgrade. I think nuns would be well -suited to resisting government pressure.

Now that we have trustworthy guardians of privacy, how can this arrangement make the world a better place? What useful applications would be possible if the government mandated that the location of your phone and your automobile must always be broadcast via Internet to a nun-protected database? Let's say the government gives the phone industry and the auto industry five years to meet this new location-awareness standard, including retrofitting old cars. And let's add some video cameras to the inside and inside of cars while we're at it.

I would think that in this imagined future, transportation energy costs would drop by about 20%. I'll give you a few reasons why. For starters, all parking spaces could be wired with sensors so no one ever has to circle the block looking for a place to park. When your car enters a neighborhood, it accesses the parking database and displays the nearest available spots on its navigation screen.

Now imagine all cars have the new technology that lets you see your own car as if you are above it. I already have that feature on my car, thanks to side and rear cameras; it makes parking a snap. I literally park the car as if I'm playing a video game. I just look at the navigation screen and maneuver the animated depiction of my car into the actual space that my side and rear cameras are showing. Parallel parking is one clean motion every time. It's frickin' magic. Let's imagine that streetlights someday have cameras that your car can only view when you are directly below. That gives every driver a bird's eye view of street parking even without side and rear cameras.

We can get rid of speed traps in this future world. If your car exceeds the speed limit by ten miles per hour, your car gives you a warning that a ticket will be issued by email if you continue. If you continue anyway, you get an email within minutes advising you that your checking account or credit card has already been debited the amount of the ticket. That should save a lot of time and money for enforcement. And it will save on gas as well, since speeding uses more fuel than obeying the speed limit.

The offset to that savings might be higher average speed limits on all roads because driving would be so much safer with this new technology. I could imagine, for example, that in foggy conditions the speed limit would decrease automatically and notify all cars accordingly. Perhaps the system can even change speed limits dynamically depending on the driving records of everyone on the road at any given moment. During school hours, for example, you might find that the average quality of drivers is very high (because no kids are driving) and relatively few drivers are inebriated. So the system might bump up the speed limit for a few hours. Physical speed limit signs would be removed because your car would know where it is and what the speed limit is at any moment.

At some point it might be possible to eliminate traffic lights and stop signs in favor of having the Internet regulate all speeds as you approach intersections. The goal would be to keep all cars moving all the time but automatically adjust speeds so no cars collide. That would save a lot of gas, and lives too. Drivers would control their own speed until they approached an intersection, at which point the Internet would take control temporarily.

No one would ever get lost in this world. Over time, all cars would be retrofitted with GPS navigation. Retrofitting might be as simple as adding a dashboard screen that syncs to your smartphone. GPS navigation eliminates most wrong turns and thus saves gas.

Google's vision of driverless cars gets us to a similar place. But human psychology might prevent adoption of driverless cars. I hope I'm wrong because that would be awesome. The halfway version, in which each driver has a much smarter car that acts like a copilot seems more likely.

Carpooling would be easier in this imagined world. You could walk to any parking lot and your smartphone would tell you who is heading to your neighborhood in the next few minutes based on past driving patterns. Your phone would start negotiating for that ride as you entered the parking lot. If the intended driver has different plans, he sees the message on his phone and declines it. Your phone goes automatically to the next driver and even shows you a map in the parking lot so you can walk right up to the correct car. You arrive just as the driver is pulling out of his spot, already expecting you because he has tracked your location. He waves you to open the door. You hop in. No words are spoken. Your smartphone and the driver's phone record the trip distance as it happens, and transfer a preauthorized payment from the rider to the driver to compensate for gas. Video cameras in the rearview mirror keep the passenger from robbing and raping the driver, and vice versa.

Carpooling would also become more popular if each car has Internet access because it allows people to do work on the way to the office. I can imagine some progressive companies might start counting your commute time as work time as long as you have your laptop and you are not the driver. That would spread out the rush hour, reduce traffic, and save huge amounts of gas.

Hailing a cab would be convenient too. You'd always know where the nearest cab is and how long before it arrives. No one could steal your cab because the cab driver would automatically identify passengers by their phone. If the wrong person tries to climb in, the cab would sound a buzzer.

I have a theory that drunk driving could be nearly eliminated if cabs were convenient and - this next part is important - partly funded by health and auto insurance companies so the price is always reasonable. Perhaps the discount price only kicks in for people travelling to and from places that serve alcohol during certain hours of the day. That wouldn't stop all drunk drivers, but it would put a dent in it.

Now imagine your car knows its passengers by their smartphone locations. The car's radio could find music that matches the preferences of everyone in the car, possibly by checking each person's iTunes or other music collections in the cloud and looking for common songs.

Now imagine all traffic accidents are recorded on the car's video cameras and sent to the Internet in the event of a crash. That saves a huge amount of money in court cases because it will always be obvious who is at fault.

Imagine too that your car can identify in advance any cars on your road that are driving erratically or have recently come from a bar. You'd be able to keep your distance. That would help too.

There would be no more high-speed car chases in this future world. Police can stop any car's engine via Internet. Just plug in the license plate number and it rolls to a stop.

Imagine that you never have to reach for a key as long as your phone is in your pocket and knows its location. Doors would unlock when you approach, and even the lighting, heating, and entertainment in your home, office, or car would adjust to your preferences.

To enjoy all of these services, all you need to do is trust nuns with your location information. And let's say the nuns are not directly paid for their services. Rather, the payments from all of the industries using this common database go to the poor. It's a win-win.

My guess is that the coming wave of location-sensing applications will be as important to the global economy as the auto industry or the computer industry. It's a big deal, affecting every phone, computer, door, entertainment system, and auto. All we need is some visionary government leadership of the sort that helped bring us GPS satellites and the Internet. And  we need nuns to keep the government out of our location data.

Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +52
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+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 10, 2012
Those of us with control issues would have a rough time. For Pete's sake, I drive a standard...on
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 9, 2012
[They don't need to be doing the tech stuff. They just need to tell the government "no" when the Justice Department asks for the data. -- Scott]

If they aren't handling the tech stuff then "technically" they aren't handling anything. I can say no to the Justice department now but the people who control the information say yes.
Nov 8, 2012
Thank you for presenting new and exciting ideas.

We need people to look into the future and set goals.

The world was full of people who didn't like wheels, horses, and gunpowder. The few that did killed most of those that didn't.

I would love to climb into the back seat and sleep during those long drives. I would totally turn over control of my car on the interstate.

If you drive an old car, you shouldn't be on the interstate anyway, you can take the slow roads.

Plus, if a safer way (or cheaper, or more controlling way) is available, there will be companies doing it to save on insurance and accident rates. I can see my company moving towards tracking our company cars to find out how fast we go, where we go, etc..

I would like to find out where a few of my people have their company cars at when I can't get ahold of them. Maybe at the boat launch. Maybe I should join them there.
Nov 7, 2012
The Romans stored their wills and documents with the vestal virgins. These people had a job for life, with accommodation and provision for most material needs, plus huge social status, provided they shunned long-term relationships. That should have made them almost impossible to corrupt.

It worked for them. But so did having bonkers emperors, and attacking the belgians with darts and arrows, and a lot of other stuff.

+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 6, 2012
I'm not going to attack the whole nun idea, because I think the underlying point is that it should be possible to create a failsafe, redundant system that can fill the role as guardian of privacy, without deploying tech savvy nuns.
I also think that the argument of diminishing personal freedom is bogus for reasons already pointed out by Scott.

I'm interested in fleshing out who gets access to mining that huge sea of data. To justify an expensive elaborate abuse-preventing system (whether it be nuns or software), the benefits of sharing all the data has to be pretty huge. This means that even basic restrictions on what information is available to whom, could be potential dealbreakers. Where would the line go? Who decides?

There's another angle to this. Information that has been shared can be analyzed to reveil meta-information that you wouldn't knowingly share.
Take for example the creepy app "Girls Around Me" that combines facebook and foursquare data to allow guys to see where all the good-looking girls are hanging out (the app was banned when it was discovered).
Somebody is going to have to make sure that such exploits or similar aren't possible, but without restricting the accessibility of useful data.
And maybe what is considered an exploit by one person, is useful for another?
These are all questions and challenges a system for guarding privacy would have to overcome.

If we can get all this down to science, then the future looks pretty cool indeed. The numbers of those who would refrain from taking advantage of such possibilities will eventually dwindle.
Nov 6, 2012
[Today the government forces you to pay the police to catch you speeding. I want the freedom to spend my money on myself, any way I like, and let technology catch the speeders. At the same time, because traffic flows better, I get the freedom to be at my destination and not in my car sitting in traffic.. If your idea of freedom is eliminating all laws and rules, you don't have a philosophy worthy of discussion. -- Scott]

I doubt that the result of taking officers off traffic patrol will be to reduce the number of officers. More likely those officers will be assigned to other things. Things that were lower priority before. Like maybe enforcing drug laws.

OK. I can see that better traffic control would have its advantages. But I still don't want my car policing me. Its an emotional reaction; when I buy something I want to boss it around, not vice versa.

Where did you get 'eliminating all laws and rules' from?
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 6, 2012
Scott, at the risk of making everyone else think I'm brown-nosing (I read the comments in descending order of Votes, and when I reached zero I hadn't seen anyone with anything positive to say), I want to congratulate you on a wonderful vision.

I guess we all dream of a perfect world, and this one really resonated with me (I cant think of a better way to say it without sounding corny)

The only problem, of course, are people, and that because (if I may mis-quote something you wrote long ago) we are !$%*!$ selfish and stupid.

Most of the people take the "I'm really an angel, but the bad people in the government are going to screw me for sure" approach. The second half of this statement is, of course, completely true. However, that's not the point of the post. That part is dealt with by mythical creatures (call them 'nuns' or whatever you will) which are presented early on in the discourse, to show that we should ignore the 'big brother' aspect and focus on the kaleidoscope of excitement which we could have without it.

Usually the Dilbert Blog readers are quite good at picking up on that kind of thing

My suspicion is that the 3 major human attributes simply cause the vast majority of people to want to hide things (Perhaps try to gain an advantage over others that are more stupid than I am? Perhaps because I feel guilty about the speed I'm driving, or the things I spend my money on?)

Is this good? Does it perhaps serve an important purpose? I don't know. But I do think we'll need a much saintlier society before people will stop minding a lack of privacy
Nov 6, 2012

[I'm ... not really seeing how nuns can do any of this. Clearly abandoning privacy has benefits, but are you suggesting that nuns would manually check each request for data or that their presence would somehow shield the data from evil?]

If, as I pointed out, we outnumber them 10,000 to 1 then it all depends on how many requests are made for data on 10,000 people. But here we come to a bigger problem; training. We would have to train all of these 30,000 nuns on how to handle/make judgement calls on these requests. Think we could get that part right? Keep in mind that each nun would be at least 38 years old, their intelligence and education distribution would likely be the same as that of the general population and the requests they receive would likely come from lawyers.
+19 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 6, 2012
Scott, I think your lack of concern with the loss of privacy stems from your American upbringing. Since the start of your country, your government has been an organ that you can (sort of) trust not to harm you for your opinions, your ideas, or your personality. You never had anything to hide. Maybe except if you would have had some socialist views in the 50's.

Where I come from (the Netherlands), 70 years ago, I would've had quite a lot to hide. And the nuns weren't really helping. I have friends my age (24) from other parts of the EU, like Poland and Germany, that were born in a dictatorship. They could've been prosecuted for the things they say and want now.

Be careful Scott. Remember you live in a very special little part of history, where you can't be jailed and tortured for the things you say and think (unless you call taking your ideas out of context, and causing public outrage 'torture'). That little part can end within 15 years. There was no sign of German invasion of Holland in 1925.
Nov 6, 2012
Are you telling me that some goblins have set up a rival to Gringotts Wizarding Bank?

Yes, Snott, getting the name is right is very important!
Nov 6, 2012
I'm ... not really seeing how nuns can do any of this. Clearly abandoning privacy has benefits, but are you suggesting that nuns would manually check each request for data or that their presence would somehow shield the data from evil?
Nov 6, 2012
scott, really great point when you said... [Name something about your privacy that the government doesn't already have access to if they have a good reason, or even a !$%*!$%* reason. You never had any privacy to lose. How much money and convenience would you trade in order to maintain the illusion that you have the thing you already lost? -- Scott] at present, to my knowledge, there are no camera's in my car, and no way to universally monitor my speed when i drive or stop my car without physical interaction. probably others too.
for me though, the issue is permission, not ability. at present, it would be an intrusion that would require at least theorhetical cause for the government to dig into me on the level you are describing. could they? i am sure they could. are they? maybe that too. but for me to TRADE my privacy for convience, safety, and economy is my sticking point.
i'm no libertarian, but i do believe that, at some point along the scale of trading rights for amenities, a person essentially sells themselves into a sort of congenial slavery/tyranny. this concerns me because i don't trust any institution enough to give them full knowlege of myself in return for anything they might have to offer, even if it were managed by nuns..
i concede that "they" could just take it, and maybe already are. but, in that case, i have at least a vague understanding of how to rebel against a broken social contract. if i give all privacy over, i think i have to give that over too, and its not worth it to me to do so.
Nov 6, 2012
convience, safety, and economy, all in return for letting Big Brother (make that Sister) watch me. very tempting, but my vote is no. being able to run from the cops and be generally in possession of privacy feels sort of like a Jeffersonian requirement for the continuation of freedom.

[Name something about your privacy that the government doesn't already have access to if they have a good reason, or even a bullshit reason. You never had any privacy to lose. How much money and convenience would you trade in order to maintain the illusion that you have the thing you already lost? -- Scott]
Nov 6, 2012
Sorry, just to be clear, didnt mean to include driving and using a phone in my last comment...though I honestly dont phone very much either and could probably do without a car if I had to (the other transport options in my area are pretty good).
Nov 6, 2012
[That's the sort of thinking that said no one would ever use an ATM because it will steal your money and leave no record, no one will purchase online with a credit card, and no one will have Facebook, and no one will use a smartphone that tracks everything you do. History says we find ways to deal with those issues, or we simply stop worrying about them. -- Scott]

[You can opt out of driving and using a phone too, so long as we're being ridiculously impractical. -- Scott]

...Umm...did you not read my comment? Im getting along just fine without all of those things you mentioned.
Nov 6, 2012
I think you've finally "jumped the shark" with this column. I cannot imagine wanting to live in the world that you've described.

[You're already in it, minus the convenience. -- Scott]
Nov 6, 2012
I have to disagree with any continuation of government enforcement of behavior, with this technology. Currently, individuals are binary grouped: government and governed. People can speed, but only if they are govt officials known as state patrol men. Literally everyone else has to maintain the speed limit. This is ridiculous. Insurance should dictate how fast above the limit people can go. Someone with a spotless driving record and a high networth (to pay for a wreck) should absolutely have more freedom to drive faster, since they have the liability to pay for the higher risk. Power should match responsibility. In politics, this is impossible. A person who wins a popularity contest and suddenly has power over $100s of Billions or even $Trillions (total cost of major legislation) has no possible way to pay for it if the net result is a destructive system, such as Social Security. Meanwhile, in business, there is a cost for all waste, superstition and irrationality.

[Is it my imagination or did the entire world become insane right before the U.S. election? I'm almost positive no one would make this sort of comment in February. -- Scott]
Nov 5, 2012
We're coming up the most wasteful transportation weeks of the year -- Thanksgiving. Airlines are booked to capacity, just to allow us to overeat with relatives that maybe we'd rather not see in the first place. I like your idea of the "Wally Telepresence Robot" for Thanksgiving. "Hi, Aunt Ethel!" could be delivered in 5.1 sound. A better hugging app is the only thing stopping this from totally working.

Nov 5, 2012
One thing we have now that I could see staying around if this were to come to pass, are dynamic electric speed limit signs.

I was once driving through a major city during a higher traffic period and noticed that they were using different speed limits for different lanes. One lane was at 5 MPG, another at 35, and the HOV was at 45.

The non-existent regular metal ones would have indicated a "60 MPH".
Even if the car knew the speed limit for that lane, the visual cue of "Hey, there is traffic up ahead in this lane, slow down or move over now!" might help the driver.
Nov 5, 2012
Let me see if I understand this:

1. I am Scott Adams.
2. Generally, I hate people (which is not a negative but actually a good thing!).
3. I have a car that is very expensive and might actually be a Gayius but not a Duster which is the kind of car a cool rich guy should drive but that a super rich loser like me drives because I am in Cali and I am self absorbed because of my neighbors and they would be offended by a muscle car and the fact it gets really bad gas mileage.
4. I want to make a few dollars driving them even though I don't need the money nor the INCREDIBLE HASSLE.
5. I want people, who will probably annoy me to no end, in my expensive car even though I don't need it and I will probably have a brain seizure.
6. I love social experiments that will not work because I generally don't like people so that is so funny!
7. Oops, experiment ends because of that fact. Never mind. New column of absurd stuff manana!!! Yeah, go Dilbert!

[Dude, it's two puffs then pass. I think you got the count wrong. -- Scott]
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