Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Everything Will be On Record -- And it will be awesome!

I have thought about this a lot. And I have now become convinced that, in the near future (in the next decade, say), every interaction you have with anyone else, every little walk you take outside your house, every single thing you say, will be recorded. And this will not be a bad thing.

And in most countries, it will not be big brother who is recording you -- it will be you, yourself. You will be wearing a wire all the time -- every conversation you have will be picked up by a hidden camera and microphone on your person (tethered wirelessly  to your smartphone, possibly) ; it will be recorded and immediately uploaded to the cloud. You will do it; everyone else will do it; and everyone you know will know that you're doing it - and you will know that everyone else is doing it. Furthermore, friendly algorithmic agents in the cloud will determine if you are in imminent danger - and will dispatch appropriate authorities to your current location, should such a determination be made. All this without any violation of privacy -- they're acting on fully your behalf. 

By far the biggest benefit of this will be felt in the developing world. A developing world, where there's lots of poverty - and subsequently, lots of corruption, bribery and exploitation right now. I believe that this is all set to change because of technology. I believe that when used appropriately, technology can bring an unprecedented level of transparency to human-human interactions, potentially striking a debilitating blow to current self-sustaining cycles of corruption. 

Consider the following scenario, which most Indians will be able to relate to. 

You're in a government office, trying to secure some paperwork to take possession of your new house. Things are great, except for the clerk at the registration office, who wants a few tens of thousands of rupees to line his pockets with. You really have no way out of this situation -- he's going to irritate and harass you until you pay up.

Now, imagine, if you had a hidden camera/microphone on your person - and you recorded some fairly incriminating statements and expressions from him (demanding bribes, for example). And then you proceeded to hand this tape over to one of the hundreds of news channels which have mushroomed of late in India. This naming and shaming that will ensue will possibly act as a disincentive from further corrupt behavior.

The tea-boy who sees a minister get off light after running that red light could hand over embarassing records to the media, for instance. And if the police don't record acts of sexual violence  and say something misogynistic instead -- you now have a video of a shameless, corrupt cop to upload to youtube.

This will, of course, bring about a 'blackmail' culture for a while. But I am convinced that this is a transient. Soon, every government employee, scared that they will be falsely named and shamed, without telling their own side of the story, will start recording everything they do. Maybe their employer will do it for them. Soon every human interaction will be recorded by both parties. And this will bring rise to perfect transparency. The same clerk in the registration office that we talked about earlier will now work under a camera, which is recording everything you say to him; everything he says to you. Your personal microphone is also recording everything you say to him. If you offer to bribe him, you're in trouble; if he requests a bribe, he's in trouble. Your only option is to follow the rules. His only option is to follow the rules.

Big brother isn't watching you. But if you do something wrong, the wronged party can rewind the tape and show big brother.And if some party wrongs you, you and rewind the tape and show big brother.  And if big brother isn't willing to listen, big news media is going to be more than happy to listen.

And this will kill corruption.