Posted: June 13, 2013

The futurist: Portrait of a new radical

Can we live in the hyper-transparent world we're creating?

Thomas Frey

Over the past few days, I’ve been wrestling with a very troubling thought.

It started with the simple question: What options will people have 10 years from now to protest perceived injustice, inequity or outright corruption by those in power on a local, national or international level?

Voicing complaints on social media like Facebook or Twitter, organizing a sign-waving rally on the Capitol steps or taking out a full-page ad in a newspaper will probably still be options – but they’re also a quick way to be branded a troublemaker. 

Every shift in technology brings with it positives as well as the negatives. In a hyper-transparent, open society, being the whistleblower for injustice can quickly become more about the accuser than the wrong that needs righting.

Like it or not, transparency changes the equation.

Is humanity prepared to live in the hyper-transparent world we’re creating? Caution: the conclusions I’ve reached may be more than a little disturbing.

Rich History of Rule Breakers

Rule-breaking has many dimensions: There’s a wide chasm between someone who takes a calculated business risk in pursuit of something positive and a demented psychopath breaking rules in a purely evil fashion.

For example, Pete Diamandis, who bluffed his way to his first X-Prize payout, cannot be compared with Bernie Madoff, whose only plan was to bilk people out of billions of dollars. 

Similarly, Bugsy Siegel’s sleight-of-hand financing techniques used to build The Flamingo, the first major resort in Las Vegas, also cannot be compared with Bonnie and Clyde, whose only goal was to rob banks. 

Yet as we begin extending the long arm of scrutiny and attempt to shine the transparency spotlight on all forms of rule-breaking, we often run the risk of lumping them together and throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.

Might our overarching drive to use our soon-to-be all-seeing, all-knowing technology for the powers of good – to rid society of corruption, fraud and depravity – actually make things worse? 

It is not only possible but very likely.

Caught in the Transparency Spotlight

For years, the world cheered when someone like 60 Minutes' Mike Wallace managed to confront people on camera and catch them in a baldfaced lie. But capturing a “Mike Wallace moment” back then on video or photos was a rare occurrence. 

Today, most confrontations are captured on photos or videos.

Within a decade, if you participate in a demonstration or protest, the probability of being personally identified will reach 100 percent. 

Recent protests in Turkey have many wearing gasmasks or the ever-anonymous Guy Fawkes masks to conceal their identity. At this point in history, those are probably sufficient.

However, in a few short years, people will become infinitely more traceable and simply using face paint, masks or other theatrical disguises will offer little to shield them from the scrutiny of those who take time to investigate. 

Young people involved in the Turkish protests find it easy to get caught up in the moment and are often involved in the destruction and burning of property in the streets.

To be sure, the dividing point between a protest participant and those officially labeled a “terrorist” is a very fine line. 

As we move farther down the path of automating justice, the use of drones for surveillance, identification and capture will be greatly expanded. And once a person is labeled a terrorist, it will be a designation that haunts them the rest of their life, regardless of where they live.

Are we prepared to throw away the lives of our young people for these brief moments of indiscretion?

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

ColoradoBiz TV

Loading the player ...

Featured Video