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.

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Nov 5, 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]

Everything you mention has an opt-out option. You can skip the ATM and use the branch. You can use checks or cash for most things - rather than a credit card and you can still communicate with friends without a smartphone for Facebook account. People can choose convenience over privacy - or whatever other concern they might have. I use all of it. The only thing on this list that my husband uses is a credit card. (Nothing to do with privacy concerns. He just never figured the rest of it out - and he finds it more convenient to ask me for cash, smartphone map directions or updates on friend/family postings.)

I think it will come down to a technology issue. If people feel reasonably secure that their location information is largely private, most people will take advantage of it. I honestly would not care at this point in my life. However, there was a time when I had good reason to care. If there are too many breaches - you are going to have large segments of the population that will not want to trade convenience for track-ability.

[You can opt out of driving and using a phone too, so long as we're being ridiculously impractical. -- Scott]
Nov 5, 2012
The paranoids will never go for this and a significant percentage of the population will view the cell phone as you envision it as being "the mark of the beast". Even I, who likes tech, look somewhat askance at so much of my info being legitimately centrally located and ripe for abuse. Your point of trusted caretakers is good but I think the only truly trusted caretaker would be an A.I. without ego and able to defend itself from abusers. But such an A.I. is not imminent as near as I can tell, besides there will be those who would say it's oversight lacks a 'human touch' (a feature and not a bug as far as I'm concerned) and bridle at their data being under it's control. (Especially when their plans to take advantage of a weakness are thwarted by it.)
+10 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 5, 2012
Try finding nuns that have been nuns for 20 years that know anything about computers. It would just make the job easier for hackers to get your data.

[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]
Nov 5, 2012
No, no and no. Nuns? I hate to tell you this, but they already have a job, and it's one that you think is a waste of time. You see, Scott, nuns believe in God, and work to carry out Christ's admonition which is the basis of charity. I'm afraid that a server farm populated by techno-nuns is one of your, shall we say, less-realistic ideas. Not that it's all that different from your usual forays into pipe-dreaming.

Here's a better thought, if I agreed with your 1984-ish (the book, not the year) vision of our future, which I don't. How about using secretaries? Many people don't realize that the word "secretary" means "one to whom we entrust our secrets." Think of all the information secretaries are privy to - especially executive assistants. I know, because my wife was one for many years. She knew where the skeletons were buried, and kept the secrets with which she was entrusted.

One of the interesting changes in today's corporate world is that we have fewer secretaries. We now rely on secure servers and technology to keep our secrets. Hah! That works out so well that identity theft is one of the largest and certainly the fastest-growing of all significant crime types. There is a large industry now up and running with credit monitoring and identity theft protection services. So your idea is basically, let's keep the same infrastructure but use nuns to watch as identity thieves steal your savings and destroy your credit. Got any more great ideas? No, that was NOT an invitation!

You actually believe that all you need to stop drunk driving is to have subsidized cabs? In what world do you live? Right here, in our northern California area, there's a service that will send two people to your location: one to drive you and your car home, and the other to follow your car and deliver its driver back home. AAA has a "Tipsy Tow" service that will take you and your car home for free, if you're a member.

Why don't people use this? Duh. When you drink, you impair your ability to make good decisions. Cheap cabs won't change that. How about having your car test your breath? There are areas where people who have been convicted of drunk driving have to put a breathalyzer in their car which won't let the car start if you're above the legal limit.

I can't imagine that you're serious about creating a car which turns in its owner if he/she speeds. Why stop there, Scott? Why not just require everyone to wear a monitor that tracks everyone's actions, and then turns you into the police whenever you break the law? Toss a gum wrapper out the car window, and BAM! You're busted! Jaywalk, and when you get home, the ticket is waiting! Gee, Scott, what a great idea!!! You've just taken unreasonable search and seizure to a new level.

Your ideas make Big Brother look like a wimp! Let's make sure EVERY citizen follow EVERY law ALL THE TIME, or else!!! Then, politicians will start making new laws, like, oh, say, no mean talking about politicians or you go to prison. Or, put an incandescent light bulb into a socket, and WHAM! The police show up at your door, take that light bulb away, and fine you $500 for causing global warming! Pretty soon, we'd be asking permission to go to the bathroom. Which we could only do twice a day, because to go more often would waste water. I can't wait to live in THAT country!

I never seem to get through to you that freedom is more important than just about anything. You can always pass laws, and you can always get new politicians - but once you give up your freedom, you'll never get it back. Remember the words of Ben Franklin: "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

You propose giving up too much to gain too little. Thank God you're not in charge.

[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]

+10 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 5, 2012

This story just had to run on the day you suggested entrusting our privacy to nuns didn't it.
Nov 5, 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]

As a matter of fact I do go to great lengths to avoid online purchases and never use an ATM (I don't even have an ATM card) for precisely those reasons. And according to the news I do in fact reduce my risks of some kinds of badness by doing so. And Im okay with that (avoiding ATMs helps me stick to my weekly budget, and I prefer brick and mortar shops anyway for other reasons).

Its also worth mentioning that I don't have a smartphone or Facebook page, but my reasons have nothing to do with security. I simply haven't seen the need to spend $400 a year for a smartphone and don't see the need to spend time making a Facebook page either.
Nov 5, 2012
While all this sounds very cool - my guess is that men are more likely to embrace this sort of thing than women. Big generalization, I know. However, even though I'm pushing 50 - well past the age when I'm likely to pickup a dedicated stalker - I still remember what it feels like to be the object of unwanted obsession. I think privacy is more meaningful to the average woman than it is to the average man - and an army of nuns does not seem a strong enough defense.

The fact that the lack of privacy discourages bad behavior is not enough compensation for the fact that it could potentially give the obsessor tools to follow your every move. Even if the person never acts on the illicit knowledge, the prospect is still profoundly creepy.

That said - I'm still enthusiastic about the idea of driverless cars, smart carpools etc. I just think people need the option to opt out and still have reasonable options for getting around if they want or need to drop off the map for a while.

[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]
Nov 5, 2012
[I'm starting to think any reference to Big Brother and 1984 is a signal that the reader doesn't understand the government already has access to every scrap of your personal information if it decides it wants it. -- Scott]

QFT. The NSA has a voice record of every cell phone call made in a database somewhere.

Of course it'd be nice if the IRS had its act together like that so they could just send an accurate bill and we wouldn't have to waste hours filling our taxes out. IMO it'd be better if they would just send a bill if we owe anything or a check if we don't.
Nov 5, 2012
the nuns would either have to be willing to take detailed technical training, or they would be dependent on techie types who do the actual database maintenance and could be corrupted. In fact, if the nuns don't do the techie work, what's their value add?

The interesting thing about your post, Scott, is that the technology for everything (or almost everything) in your post exists. The integration issues are tremendous though, and not just for technical reasons - everybody has to agree on using the same systems and standards and that's a huge difficulty.

And, as others have noted, if you were able to build this system you describe, it could be used for all sorts of other tracking-related purposes, and the "big brotherness" of it would be heavily rejected on idealistic grounds.

So sorry Scott, no utopia, it would be too well-organized. Although less efficient and safe, a loose/sloppy world is free-er.

[One can't entirely guard against evil techies. The nuns would mostly be keeping the government away from your data, making users feel safer even if they aren't, and maintaining some ethical standards that would perhaps be contagious. -- Scott]
Nov 5, 2012
There's only one part of this that you failed to explain:

"And let's add some video cameras to the inside and inside of cars while we're at it."

I'm going to assume you meant "inside and outside," because that makes way more sense. However, whereas you've explained the purpose pf the outside camera (to record accidents for later study), you haven't explained the purpose of inside camera. I think this is the part people will find hardest to accept. The inside of a car is like one's own little world. You do lots of things there that you probably don't want the nuns to see, even if you don't routinely use your car for sex. Get rid of the inside camera part. Otherwise, I see your point.

[You'd want the inside camera to protect against evil carpoolers, to do video calls, to do facial recognition for passwords, and for some parents to check on teens, so long as the teens are aware of it. -- Scott]
Nov 5, 2012
Driverless cars will make many of these ideas obsolete before they ever make it to market. That will probably increase the need for reliable privacy.

Nuns? I'm not sure I could trust nuns. Monks who have taken vows of silence and poverty would be excellent. I wonder how we can increase the number of those in our country, since they seem to have little incentive to cooperate.
Nov 5, 2012
[I'm starting to think any reference to Big Brother and 1984 is a signal that the reader doesn't understand the government already has access to every scrap of your personal information if it decides it wants it. -- Scott]

OK. Guess I have a problem with clarity (this isn't the first time). The point I was trying to make was that parts of your plan strike me as putting new restrictions on personal freedom. I can live with my car having an 'autopilot' mode, but not so much having my car tell me what to do when said autopilot is off. Yes, avoiding accidents and drunk driving is a good thing, but still...
Nov 5, 2012
[Do they have better things to do than feeding the poor? That would be their compensation for services rendered. -- Scott]

You are failing to grasp the central point here; if we are limiting ourselves to 20 year veterans then we have an 'applicant pool' of maybe 30,000. Even if all 30,000 nuns go for your deal (and we can't be sure they will) that still works out to one nun guarding the privacy of 10,000 people. Does that strike you as enough?
Nov 5, 2012
If everything is automated, there would be no speeding tickets: you car wouldn't let you go too fast. The downside to automated cars though is you are adding another part that will break and cost you 1K-2K to fix it. Or the automated update didn't work and you find yourself in the middle of the bay.

Of course, if we are talking automation, going to work would be irrelevant because all contact could be done over the internet and all physical labor done by robots. Because robots are awesome.

The bad part about all this is if your spouse or your stalker has adequate hacking skills, things might get awkward. Or your device (apple) doesn't talk to everyone else's (MS).
Nov 5, 2012
We're already on our way! Lockitron has designed a product that nearly caused me to throw away my deadbolt key--I won't need it anymore when the product ships.
Nov 5, 2012
Am I the only one who thinks all of this sounds rather big brotherish? Even if we resolve the problem I raised in my last comment about who we'll find to guard our privacy?

[I'm starting to think any reference to Big Brother and 1984 is a signal that the reader doesn't understand the government already has access to every scrap of your personal information if it decides it wants it. -- Scott]
Nov 5, 2012
A lot of these problems are bypassed when driverless cars become a thing, but I like the way you think.

[A few points on driverless cars: 1) They will certainly send your location information to the cloud, so that privacy ship is already leaving the port. 2) Cars are only a part of the overall location-aware benefits we will see someday. -- Scott]
Nov 5, 2012

Im sure those 60,000 nuns have things to do besides guard our privacy. Especially if we limit to 20-year veterans. Afraid we'll have to find someone else to guard our privacy.

[Do they have better things to do than feeding the poor? That would be their compensation for services rendered. -- Scott]
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