Google is partnering with the CIA in investing in a company called "Recorded Future" that monitors the Internet in real time and claims it uses the information gleaned to predict the future! Now, whilst this might be valuable for Internet security purposes, and in helping to prevent acts of terrorism, it could also be used with sinister and malign intent, as Martyn Warwick reports.
Google is becoming ever-more intertwined with the US government and its various security and intelligence agencies, and, in the latest demonstration of that relationship, the Cookie Monster's investment arm, Google Ventures, is co-operating with the US spy agency to sink money into Recorded Future, currently a Massachusetts-based start-up with just sixteen staff.
And why are these not-so-unlikely bedfellows so interested? Well, Recorded Future's "temporal and spatial analytics" software can trawl through thousands upon thousands upon thousands of websites, including blogs and social media such as Twitter and Facebook, to analyse "the relationships between people, organisations, actions and incidents" now - and in the future.
Recorded Future says its product “goes beyond search” by “looking at the ‘invisible links’ between documents that talk about the same, or related, entities and events.” The idea being to "calculate" for any given "incident" that has taken place or might take place just who was involved, where it happened or when and why it might happen. The software takes all these factors and more to produce a plot of what it calls the "online momentum" indicating the probability that an "event" or "incident" might occur.
If it works, such a tool might well provide useful intelligence about potential terrorist actions, but it could also be used as an insidious method of surveillance and social control of the law-abiding general public and to stifle debate, dissent, the freedom of speech, the right of assembly and erode or destroy who knows what other civil and legal rights and liberties.
The US intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies are evincing increasing interest in mining so-called “open source intelligence”; data that is publicly available and often linked but the interconnections between them are obscured in the the welter and white noise of the deluge of daily media content. That's why they have been, and are, investing in companies like Recorded Future.
Reading Recorded Future's press releases and marketing collateral is like stepping into a science fiction novel portraying a soon-to-be-upon-us world with worrying similarities to the film "Minority Report".
The company's software collects details of people, the places they have been, are at, or are about to go to, the others with which they have contact and the activities being or about to be undertaken.
Artificial Itelligence algorithms are then applied to determine the "tone" of the information thus agglomerated and all aspects of the data are brought together in a "sentiment analysis" - a pseudonym for a breakdown of the likelihood that an event will or could happen. To take this to its logical conclusion, it might not be long before individuals and groups can be pre-emptively arrested and incarcerated for "events" (crimes?) that have not happened yet. Just like in Minority Report.
Interestingly, both the CIA's investment arm and Google Ventures have seats on the board of Recorded Future. Christopher Ahlberg, the company's co-founder and CEO says these directors have been “very helpful,” providing advice and introducing potential customers. I'll bet they have.
Google's involvement with the US government and its interest in companies like Recorded Future is worrying. Google has access to inconceivably huge amounts of personal data and collects more every second of every day and the "don't be evil" corporate mantra rings hollow these days.
Indeed, in a submission to a recent US Congressional hearing, John Simpson an advocate for the influential American "Consumer Watchdog" organisation wrote, “Assurances from the likes of Google that the company can be trusted to respect consumers’ privacy because its corporate motto is ‘don’t be evil’ have been shown by recent events such as the ‘Wi-Spy’ debacle to be unwarranted."
It becomes more evident every day just how prescient George Orwell was when the wrote "1984". If the sorts of things that are going on now continue unchecked, how long do you think it will be before someone is jailed for Thought Crime? Couldn't happen? Yes it could.
In the book, the government of Airstrip One (Britain) controls not only the speech and actions of citizens but also their thoughts. Those classified by the Party as "disapproved" thoughts are Thought Crimes or, in Newspeak, "crimethink". Crimethink is the responsibility of the secret Thought Police whose job it is to uncover and punish Thought Crime. They use technology to find and eliminate members of society who are capable of merely thinking about changing or challenging the political status quo and ruling authority.
Christopher Ahlberg, demonstrating the capabilities of Recorded Future's software said,“We’re right there as it happens. We can assemble actual real-time dossiers on people.”
I rest my case.
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