Technology will always advance, but human nature will always remain imperfect.
Marc Goodman’s well-written and -researched Future Crimes is like having a hundred conspiracy theorists in a room, each armed to the hilt with examples of the terrible things that can happen to you if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. The problem? We are all really in the wrong place at the wrong time…all the time. Technology linking us together is everywhere. Your phone, refrigerator, car, and pretty much everything else is almost always a link to something or someone else.
I am happy to have grown up at a time when I could witness the birth and growth of the personal computing revolution. In high school, Ms. Musto taught us basic coding that we then backed up on cassette tapes. In college, we had a data processing lounge (keypunch cards, anyone?), and my first job featured one of the first IBM PCs to put together one of the first desktop published magazines. With that revolution, I got to see and participate in our ability to communicate with anyone, anywhere, at any time.
But this technological growth comes with a price. The connectivity that allows me to talk to friends in Norway, Israel, and all over the United States is also the technology that allows for some anonymous guy in Russia to try to clean out my bank account, or order tacky jewelry from Groupon using my credit card.
Goodman tells us lurid details from simple cybercrime to the Dark Net’s endless supply of drugs, slaves, and assassins. He breaks it down into three parts: how it has developed, the horrible things that can and do happen, and how we can avoid being part of the carnage.
The book offers lots of advice along with horror fables. Its biggest point is that we need to, as a country, pay more attention to the infrastructure we are building to appease our great need to reach out and touch someone—literally and figuratively. We too often choose ease of process, preferring not to see that, by opening a door, we might be making ourselves more vulnerable. We are far too often willing to ignore safety if we can just get a little bit more.
When the towers fell on 9/11, we all became security minded, and now a great trip to the airport is one in you don’t have to take off your shoes or be grilled by the TSA. We give up so much of our freedom, oftentimes beyond logic, simply to avoid the one-in-a-million chance of being obliterated at 20,000 feet. The chance that it will happen is probably little more now than it was pre-9/11, but we have many hundreds of thousands of paid consultants telling us that it might happen.
Goodman’s examples are totally spot on—I’ve had my Bank of America and Target cards cancelled and replaced several times over just the last few years because their systems have been hacked—and we should all follow some pretty basic rules so our life savings are not flushed down the toilet.
But the bigger lesson here is that we have moved forward technologically, just as we always have. That always comes with bigger responsibility, both personally and with the government we choose. When I was in my teens, the chance that something stupid that I did or said would be enjoyed worldwide instantaneously was less than nil. Now, I can paste the wrong URL in a Twitter post and I might end up on the Huff Post and Drudge Report websites, or simply handed from social media account to social media account ’til somebody in deepest Congo is sitting there, laughing at me while he eats his corn flakes.
Future Crimes is a great read and one that we should pay attention to: for the sake of our privacy, for the sake of our infrastructure, and for the sake of our personal security.
But we should also realize that this is the new reality. The use of the term “future crimes” for the title of the book is rather ironic in the sense that these things are happening now, and some form of them has been happening since the first human figured out how to trick some sap out of his possessions.
Not for nothing, Goodman quotes Bill Watterson: “The problem with the future is it keeps turning into the present.” Technology will always advance, but human nature will always remain imperfect. Jim Dunn